I may have missed Mardi Gras, but I sure did not miss out on the flavor. One of the greatest things about having worked in some great New Orleans style restaurants over the years is that I have learned the true art of great Cajun cuisine. This is not the overrated stuff which goes BAM. No, this is the stuff which has been made by mothers for their children growing up on the bayou and in the good old Crescent City.
The good news is that you do not have to live in a soup bowl to understand good food. The only thing you have to have is a willingness to try new things and to lose the fear associated with cooking. After all, if uneducated slaves in the south could elevate leftovers into some of the most sumptuous dishes ever to hail from the region, there is no reason why you should not be able to do the same thing. Here I will walk you through making a great crawfish etouffe.
All about the roux
The first thing that you will need to know about when making a good crawfish etouffe is how to make the right roux. If you are unfamiliar with this, first let me tell you that it is pronounced like “ROO”. The second thing you need to know is how to make it. This is nothing more than an amalgamation of butter and flour. Take equal parts of each and stir them together in a pot and you have roux. Let me break it down further.
Put your butter in the pot over medium heat. As soon as the butter melts, (you’ve been stirring, right?) add in the flour. This works best with a wooden spoon, but a whisk will work well also. Stir the two together quickly so that you will get a nice smooth blonde color. If you were looking for a blonde roux you would cook it about 1-2 minutes and you would be done.
What you need for this dish is a dark roux. This means that you are going to cut the heat to a low temperature. The roux is going to bubble as you stir it. If it starts to look clumpy, do not worry as this is normal. Just keep stirring. Eventually the roux will start to turn color and when you have something which looks like a good dark toffee, you have the right color. You will also note the strong, nutty aroma from the roux. This is the stuff dreams are made of kids. Turn off the heat and use your spoon to put all of the roux into a bowl. Keep to the side and start the rest of the dish.
Get to know trinity
If you are into cooking, you are probably just starting to learn about a mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery). In Cajun cooking, you tend to use trinity instead. This is onions, celery and green peppers. The right portion to have is 1 part of celery and green pepper and two parts of onions. Always I add to this mix about a head of garlic and green onions. This will provide a lot of the flavor you will be able to enjoy.
Choosing your crawfish
You do not have to use crawfish in the shells unless you really want to. Most cooks will simply use the frozen crawfish tails to get the meat that they need to cook up some delicious etouffe. Simply thaw out the crawfish overnight in the fridge when you are ready to make it. If you cannot wait a day, pop the crawfish bag in a bowl of running cold water and the crawfish will be thawed in about a half hour.
When you are ready to get started, you should start off with butter in a medium pot. If you don’t want to use butter – far be it from me why – use canola oil instead. Add in the onions first. While stirring every once in a while, add in the garlic, celery and then the green peppers. Space out each addition by about 2-3 minutes. Get some good Cajun seasoning and add a dash (1-2 tablespoons) while the vegetables are cooking. When you are just about ready, add in two large bay leaves.
Next you will add in some chicken stock to the recipe. I generally use about one quart of chicken stock to the recipe. Also add in your crawfish at this point. As this is heating up, but before it comes to a simmer, add in the dark roux. How much to add in will depend on how thick you want to make your etouffe. For this recipe, you should use about ¾ cup of dark roux. Make sure to stir your etouffe as you add in the roux. Stir until all the roux has been incorporated. A note here: you can add cold roux to a cold stock or cold roux to hot stock or cold stock to hot roux. NEVER add hot roux to hot stock. You will get a clumpy disaster you will hate.
Finishing it off
After allowing the etouffe to simmer for about a half hour, it is a good time to add in the green onions to the mix. You should also taste everything at this point to see if you need to make any additions. You may want to add Tabasco at this point of more creole seasoning. It is up to your palate as what you want. At this point you should be able to taste the seasoning, the vegetables and the crawfish. Allow it to simmer about ten minutes more before plating. The mixtures should look a bit thicker than soup, but not thick enough to be gravy.
Plating your creation
The classic way to serve this dish is with the rice in the center of a shallow bowl. A good way to do this is to take a small espresso cup and fill it with steamed white rice. Make sure to mound the rice over the top so you can pack it in good. Turn the bowl over on top of the cup and invert the whole thing. Press down good on the cup and pull straight up. You should get a nice mound of rice in the center. Add in the etouffe around the rice and you are ready to eat. You may want to throw a few more green onions on top to get the full flavor of New Orleans.
Dig in and enjoy! I just made this for a great Sunday lunch and my family was over the moon happy about it. It is amazing how something so simple can make you feel so good. Trust me, when you try this you are going to be ready to put on some creole music and dance the night away.
If you really want to send this dish over the top, have a couple of cold Turbo Dogs from the Abita Brewing Company. The flavors go so well together that you might feel as if the might mississip’ is not too far away. Sorry, there will not be any beignets or chicory coffee to follow unless you feel up to the challenge.