Literally translated, étouffée means to smother or suffocate. That might sound scary in a murder-by-pillow or mother-in-law-with-no-boundaries kinda way, but when it comes to food, no. That sounds dreamy.
Yes, smothering in sauce when it comes to cooking can definitely be a good thing.
Étouffée (pronounced ay-too-FAY) is a popular Cajun-Creole dish of a thick, spicy stew of crawfish (or shrimp, depending on the season) and a mixture of vegetables served over white rice. Also called crayfish, these delicious freshwater crustaceans are found in the Mississippi basin and are considered one of the official foods of Louisiana, where they also call them crawdads, according to “The New Food Lover’s Companion.” There’s nothing delicate about eating these flavorful crustaceans: You gotta get in there with your hands and suck out the sweet, tender meat.
The New Food Lover’s Companion, $14.06 on Amazon
This classic food “bible” includes more than 7,200 A-to-Z entries describing foods, cooking techniques, wines, and more.
The deep, rich color and taste of étouffée come from its base of orange-brown roux, a classic Cajun mixture of flour and fat (butter, oil, or lard) used to thicken sauces and soups. The term “à l’étouffée” means the method of cooking food in a tiny amount of liquid, with the lid on, and over very low heat.
Louisiana’s crawfish étouffée can be traced back to the crawfish capital of the world, Breaux Bridges, Louisiana. According to Louisiana crawfish farmers and brothers Mike and Mark Fruge’s Cajun Crawfish blog, étouffée was first served in the Hebert Hotel in the early 1920s. The Herberts shared their recipe with their friend, Aline Guidry Champagne, who later opened the RendezVous Café and served the flavorful dish there.
Cajun cooking is a robust, country-style combination of French and Southern cuisine that comes from today’s Cajuns found in the Deep South of U.S. They’re descendants of French Acadians, whom the British forced from their Nova Scotian homeland in 1785, according to the Companion. The local Indians transmuted the word Acadians to Cagians and, eventually, to Cajuns.
People confuse Cajun cooking with Creole cooking, and the truth is, the cuisines have cross-pollinated so much by now every assertion is up for debate. They’re both found in Louisiana and both claim étouffée, jambalaya, and gumbo, but some say the more genteel Creole food has more tomatoes and Cajun more spices. Cajun cooking uses dark roux and plenty of pork fat. Creole cooking loves its butter and cream. Both cuisines worship the culinary “holy trinity” of chopped green peppers, onions, and celery.
Étouffée is so similar to gumbo, it’s easy to confuse those two as well. But you can tell the difference because étouffée has a lighter-colored roux and it’s usually thicker than gumbo.
Regardless, it’s all delicious. Try some of these ways to étouffée.
Brunch: Crawfish Pie
Julie May creates a crawfish étouffée filling enveloped by a flaky pie crust that your brunch bunch will rave over in between sips of mimosas or bloody Marys. The filling’s ingredients include a delicious mixture of garlic, celery, peppers and crawfish tails. Get the Crawfish Pie recipe.
Lunch: Shrimp Étouffée
Jocelyn Delk Adams can make this dish in only 40 minutes and says the taste is bonkers. It’s easy once you conquer the roux part in the beginning. Although it uses shrimp rather than crawfish, the recipe calls to stir in all the traditional ingredients, like the onion, chicken stock, garlic, tomatoes, celery, and bell pepper. Get the Shrimp Étouffée recipe.
Take the best parts of étouffée and incorporate them into something baked that’s a cross between a muffin and cornbread and you get an appetizer that is so good, you’ll ruin your appetite for dinner. You might want to serve these next to some soup and call it a meal itself. Or bring them to a party, heat up, and serve with a classic cajun sauce. Get the Crawfish Étouffée Cornbread Bites with Honey Mustard Sauce recipe.
OK, take that creamy, spicy, shellfish goodness, stir it up, roll it into a ball and fry it? Yeah, that can’t be bad. First, you’ll need to make the classic cajun étouffé using another recipe. Then you take 2 cups of that to make this. You can use regular white rice, or Alice Morrow’s preferred yellow rice. Serve with a delicious sauce. Get the Fried Crawfish Étouffée Balls recipe.
Hey, maybe you don’t want all that rice. Ladle that deliciousness on a spiced tilapia fillet. This flavorful recipe which includes peeled crawish tails, 1/4 teaspoon of cajun seasoning, garlic and the holy trinity of peppers, onions, and celery comes from Burnside, Louisiana’s Cabin Restaurant, and it’s in their cookbook, too. Get the Broiled Tilapia with Crawfish Étouffée recipe.
Making this dish healthy is possible, no lie. The secret is in the roux. You can use a healthy fat, that much-loved olive oil, instead of lard or butter. Try Holly Clegg’s slim-and-trim version and see for yourself if you feel the taste of the sauce is compromised. Get the Healthy Crawfish Étouffée recipe.
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— Head Image: Chef Jeremy Langlois.