ABOVE: Shrimp étouffée (sorry for the semi-recycled post, but what are you gonna do, I’ve been busy.).
Ten years ago I was a photojournalism intern at the Baton Rouge Advocate, where crawfish became a staple of my diet. I became obsessed with all things crawfish; boiled crawfish, crawfish po’ boys, crawfish boudin balls and, of course, étouffée.
I really loved the stuff served at Tony’s Seafood on Plank Road. It’s the kind of place where you can walk in and buy live catfish or step up the counter and order Louisiana classics like red beans, gumbo and fried oyster po’ boys. Plus, they also had some of the best bread pudding around.
I haven’t been back down to Louisiana in years but I’ve been cooking étouffée ever since.
The biggest problem I’ve found around here is that crawfish are hard to come by. But last year I discovered New Wave Seafood in Stamford and they carry frozen one-pound blocks of cooked crawfish tails. I’d prefer whole crawfish because I like to make my own stock, but I’ll take what I can get. (Shop Rite in Stamford had a single bag of frozen boiled crawfish, but they were in bad shape.)
Last week, for Super Bowl Sunday, I roughly doubled the recipe but still only used 2 pounds of crawfish tails. They were fully cooked so I just threw them in at the end to bring them up to temperature and to infuse crawfish flavor.
I’ll save shrimp shells and tails from other dishes and make shrimp stock with those.
After experimenting with a couple different recipes over the years, I eventually settled on this one. But I use it more or less as a rough guide, I eyeball everything and I’m sure I’m using way more onion, celery and tomatoes than are called for (there is some debate over whether a true étouffée includes tomatoes, but I don’t care). Some étouffées have a slightly chunkier texture from the vegetables, but I like to give everything a fine dice so they cook down and whole dish is creamy.
If you follow this recipe exactly, you run the risk of seriously over seasoning it; two tablespoons of creole seasoning is really quite a lot, as it’s mostly salt. Cut down on that and then liberally use Louisiana Hot Sauce to taste. (I would use Louisiana brand or Crystal over Tabasco, which has a sharper, more acidic flavor).
The key with étouffée is to get the right balance of heat from the hot sauce and pepper and the rich creaminess from the roux and butter. It’s easy go overboard on the hot stuff but almost impossible to use too much butter.