Creole Crawfish Etouffee — Down-Home Comfort
“First, you make a roux” is the start of many Creole and Cajun recipes. Roux is a cooked mixture of fat (butter) and starch (flour) used to thicken many sauces in classic French cooking. A Creole roux is not the classic French butter-flour mixture, but usually a combination of oil, such as peanut, and flour. Unlike a French roux, which can be white to pale golden, Cajun roux are typically the color of peanut butter, at the very least, and progress to a deep, dark brown. This process can take 45 minutes or so of constant stirring. It is dangerous stuff. If any splatters on you, it will be perfectly clear why this fiery, sticky combination of oil and flour is often referred to as “Cajun napalm!”
Etoufee is a succulent, tangy tomato gravy usually made with crawfish or shrimp that traditionally starts with a dark-brown roux. Crawfish and shrimp etoufees are Cajun country specialties. The word comes from the French etouffer, which means “to smother” or “to suffocate.” In Creole it may as well translate to down-home comfort! What’s more soulfully satisfying than a bowl of rice and gravy?
Crawfish are also known as mudbugs, crawdads or crayfish. These freshwater crustaceans, in season from December to May, range in size from 3 to 6 inches and weigh from 2 to 8 ounces. In some parts of the South they are considered bait, but don’t say that to a Cajun! Crawfish are available cooked in the tail or shelled in larger grocery stores, or fresh by mail order from several Louisiana sources.
Crawfish are a sustainable seafood choice. In many respects, U.S. crawfish farming is environmentally friendly. They are native to Louisiana and often farmed in rotation with a crop, typically rice. The rice is grown and harvested, and then the land is flooded in preparation for aquaculture. In China, on the other hand, crawfish are not native and farming them has caused conservation concerns. If you are unable to find U.S.-farmed crawfish, this recipe would be equally delicious made with shrimp. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.