I want to share with you one of my favorite recipes of all time.
My dad grew up in New Orleans. This means he comes complete with impossibly high standards for Crescent City cuisine, nurtured by nostalgia for gumbos gone by. He remembers rich, buttery stews seasoned with just the right amount of peppery heat and that gush with fresh, juicy shrimp and crawdads and oysters. Such strong food memories color his opinions of any and every dish put in front of him, which makes him a tough cookie to impress.
Despite this uphill battle, I remain determined: I will get him to smack his lips in ravenous delight, so help me! I am already very, very close with this étouffée recipe.
Many étouffée recipes look very similar, at least to begin with. They all start (or should start) with a roux and incorporate the New Orleans Holy Trinity of onions, peppers, and celery. After that, recipes begin to differ. I’ve found a happy medium starting with this recipe from Emeril Legasse*, but I add a few of my own tricks.
My first trick is the use of Zatarain’s Shrimp and Crab Boil CONCENTRATE. Many grocery stores carry Zatarain’s as a single-use spice pouch, but this is NOT what you want. You want the little bottle of golden liquid concentrate. There is no point in going forward if you don’t have this. Order it online if you have to. It will last you a long time, and it’s one of the best pantry investments you can make. Be careful when you open it as just a few drops go a long way. Definitely avoid touching your eyes with this stuff. This golden gem is so powerfully packed with flavor that just a teaspoon added to a few cups of water creates a fast and cheap substitute for seafood stock in your Creole dishes. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and prepare to be impressed.
My next trick is to add several ingredients right at the end of cooking. As soon as the shrimp finishes cooking, remove the dutch oven from the heat and add a generous splash of fresh lemon juice, parsley, green onions, and most importantly, powdered Gumbo File. The file, or ground sassafras root, adds this savory, earthy, delectable je ne sais quoi you won’t be able to live without. The lemon juice, my most recent discovery, somehow rounds out the saltiness and spiciness of the dish and keeps guests going back for seconds.
I am pleased to report that even guests who have never had étouffée before–and look at it quizzically when it is set before them–find themselves licking the bowls.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
2 cups chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp paprika
5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Zatarain’s Shrimp and Crab Boil Concentrate
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
1 tbs lemon juice
Steamed white rice, for serving
Gumbo File, to taste
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir continuously to make a roux. Stir the roux over medium heat until the color of peanut butter, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic to the roux, and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes to the pot and season with the bay leaves, salt, cayenne, oregano, paprika, and thyme. Cook the tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes and then whisk in the water and Zatarain’s concentrate.
Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook the etouffee, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pot, stirring to evenly distribute. Cook the shrimp for 3 to 6 minutes, or until they are cooked through. Remove from heat before the shrimp overcook. Add the chopped parsley to the pot and stir to combine. Add gumbo file to taste, or let your guests add file themselves.
Serve immediately over steamed white rice and garnish with sliced green onion tops. If you feel like being super fancy, serve étouffée in puffed pastry bowls.
*Emeril uses a spice mixture called Essence of Emeril. Is it just me or does the “essence” of a sweaty Italian guy NOT sound delicious? Just saying…