The word étouffer means "smothered or braised," and is a technique often used with crawfish, which come in season during the spring when rain floods the rice fields. Creole cooks make etouffée as well, and however much it may vary from Cajun to Creole and from cook to cook, one constant remains: serving it over a plate of hot rice.
Like gumbo, etouffée starts with a roux, but its color tends more toward warm brown than dark chocolate in tone, and it is often made with butter rather than oil or lard. The sauce benefits greatly from the effort of making a little stock to amplify its crustacean goodness.
Start your rice and then turn to your etouffée, which for all the beauty and goodness it brings you requires only a modest amount of energy and time in return.
I love everything this classic Southern stew has going for it: a nutty dark roux, shrimp stock, slow-cooked vegetables, a hit of spice, and tender shrimp. All you need is a side of rice, and dinner is served!
You can buy frozen shrimp for this recipe; just defrost in the refrigerator the day before. Make the shrimp shell stock a day ahead to save some time.
- Christine, October 2015
Rice, for serving
Remove the shrimp shells, tails and heads if you have them, and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover and refrigerate the shrimp. Pour the stock over the shrimp shells and place the saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a rolling boil, and then lower the heat to maintain a lively simmer. Cook for 20 minutes and then remove from the heat.
While the stock is simmering, stir the thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika together in a small bowl, using a fork to combine them. When the stock is ready, pour it through a wire-mesh strainer into a measuring cup. Add a little water if needed to make 1 1/2 cups.
Place a large heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the butter. Swirl to coat the pan as the butter melts. When a pinch of flour blooms on the surface when added to the butter, scatter in the flour and stir quickly and thoroughly, combining the butter and flour evenly into a thick, smooth roux. Continue cooking, stirring often, as the roux turns from white to golden-brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the spice mixture, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and stir quickly, mixing the vegetables into the roux. Cook until everything is fragrant and softened, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Slowly add the stock, stirring and scraping to mix it in evenly. When the sauce is bubbling and boiling gently, lower the heat and cook, stirring now and then, until the sauce is thickened and smooth, about 15 minutes.
Scatter in the shrimp and let them cook undisturbed until the sides are turning visibly orange or pink, about 1 minute. Toss well and continue cooking, stirring often, until the shrimp are pink, firm, and cooked through and nicely flavored by the sauce. Add the green onions and parsley and stir well. Transfer the etouffée to a serving dish and serve it hot or warm over the rice.
- You can buy shelled shrimp instead of shell-on shrimp, and use seafood stock, shrimp stock, or chicken stock instead of making a stock with shrimp heads.
- To prepare up to a day in advance, stop before Step 5, letting the cooked sauce cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until about 10 minutes before serving time.
- When ready to serve, bring the sauce back to a lively boil and proceed, adding the raw shrimp to finish cooking.
Reprinted with permission from Southern Soups & Stews: More Than 75 Recipes from Burgoo and Gumbo to Etouffée and Fricassee by Nancie McDermott, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Chronicle Books.