HistorEats: New Orleans Style Etouffe
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Some call them Cajuns, and others, Creoles — even the name for native Louisianans is hard to pin down. Louisianans come from a mixed
background of African, French, Spanish, Native American and Anglo descent; it makes sense the labels get confused. But the Creoles
originally came from the more affluent European families who settled down in New Orleans. The Cajuns were Acadian settlers who moved out
into the marshes and swamps of Louisiana and dined on whatever they could get their hands on. While their foods once reflected their
social status and whether or not they had to work the land to survive, today they’ve blended their cuisines in a way that’s hard to break up.
Cajun cooking, while dominated by the influence of the French (they always seem to win the wars of cuisine), is a literal melting pot of the
different cultures that mixed down in the bayous of Louisiana. Traditionally, the main course of any Cajun meal would be made in a large black iron pot and spooned over a side of rice. Each ingredient — representing the different immigrant cultures — is mixed together into gumbos, jambalayas, etouffes and other dishes. New Orleans Cuisine, a book by Susan Tucker and Frederick Starr, is one of the most comprehensive resources on the complicated subject. Even the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun cooking — the three ingredients used in almost every dish — are different depending on who you talk to. Bell peppers and onions are almost always included in the triad, but the third part could be anything from garlic to celery to tomato.
Most Cajun dishes don’t have a clearcut history. Dishes don't have "inventors." They're fusions of the ethnic tastes of Louisiana settlers and the ingredients in season determined the rest. Meat (most of it preserved through smoking and other methods) was used but due to Louisiana’s location on the Gulf of Mexico, seafood is more plentiful in Cajun cooking. Maybe “going local” is trendy today but for the early settlers it was a fact
of life. In Louisiana this meant the love of a few main ingredients —the tomatoes, sassafras, okra — and finding the perfect way to mix them with the food grown nearby.
In the milder months, there are few meals I'd chose over the pairing of crawfish etouffee and a vodka lemonade. Between the warm creole spices and the citrusy kick of alcohol, I've got all I could want in an evening. Because crawfish is hard to come by on my budget, I've opted for shrimp in this recipe, and it works just as well.
Gooey, spicy stews are intimidating at first, but the only virtue that this kind of dish requires is patience. Just take it slow (as those in New Orleans often do), and keep an eye on the pan while its contents change size and texture. Ultimately, you'll want to end up with a full bowl of mushy--not runny--stew. Be sure not to muffle it with too much rice, but rather, treat rice as a garnish along with plenty of green onions.
Depending on how quickly you can chop vegetables, the prep and cooking time should take just under 2 hours.
-6 tablespoons of butter
-3 medium sized onions, chopped
-1 large green bell pepper, chopped
-2 gloves of minced garlic
-2 cups of celery, chopped
-1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
-2-3 lbs of shrimp
-2 cups of chicken or fish stock
-1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
-2 tablespoons of Emeril's Essence or Old Bay Seasoning
-2 bay leaves
-1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
-chopped parsley and green onions, for garnish
-white or brown rice (follow directions on package)
1. Heat butter in a deep saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat, then add flour. Stir together for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light brown and viscous.
2. Add celery, onions, peppers and garlic. Stir into a rue and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
3. Add in tomatoes, along with a tablespoon of Old Bay/Essence, cayenne, salt, and bay leaves. Cook for 3 minutes.
4. Whisk in chicken/fish stock.
5. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Meanwhile, season the shrimp with a tablespoon of Old Bay/Essence.
7. Add shrimp, cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
8. Mix in parsley.
9. Serve immediately over rice, garnish with green onions.