You know you’re in the South when you pull into a cruddy chain-type restaurant with an alligator mascot on the sign at 11p.m. and get a life-alteringly good bowl of shrimp etouffee. The lobby at said eatery was decorated with wagon wheels and rusty buckets, the booths were blue vinyl, and the menu included something called “gator chunks.” But dang, that etouffee was amazing. I ate every bite and ordered pecan pie to show my appreciation. Too bad I’ve since forgotten the name of the place. I think it’s in Slidell, near the K-Mart.
It’s precisely such lovely surprises that made me fall in love with Louisiana and the cooking. Around every corner, in the most unlikely dives, at all hours of the day and night you can get rich, spicy dishes like etouffee, shrimp’n’grits, and andouille sausages. And all of it makes my knees weak.
Etouffee (eh-too-fay) means “smothered” in French, as in covered in rich tomato gravy. Etouffee, as with many dishes of Cajun origin, gets its deep, dark flavor from a brown roux. The only way to get this brown roux is to melt butter, add flour and stir. And stir. And stir. We’re talking 30 minutes or more. While stirring my roux, I take the opportunity to sip a cocktail made with Bulleit Bourbon. Or I page through an old Junior League cookbook. Either way, I am having fun, so it’s 30 minutes well spent.
Just because the dish usually calls for shrimp or crawdad tails doesn’t mean my husband (who I affectionately refer to as Mr. Tofu) can’t enjoy etouffee too. I simply make the sauce with vegetable stock instead of shellfish stock. Then I take about 1 1/2 cups out of the pot, put it in a small pan, add firm tofu or Quorn chunks and simmer that separately. I add shrimp to my portion in the pot and we’re both quite content. If you’re cooking for a vegan, just use vegetable or peanut oil instead of butter for the roux.
Just because I married a vegetarian doesn’t mean I have to give up etouffee. Thank God. Laissez le bon temps rouler, eh?
Etouffe for Everyone
Serves 3 omnivores, 1 vegetarian or vegan
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups vegetable stock
Salt, cayenne, and black pepper
1/2 heaping cup Quorn Chik’n tenders
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Steamed rice or grits, for serving
Melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, whisking nearly constantly until the roux is deep brown. Think dark wood paneling circa 1970. This should take 30 minutes or so. May I recommend this recipe for a sazerac cocktail from nolafoodie.com? That will keep you content while you stir.
Add the vegetables and saute until the onion is translucent, 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 45 seconds. Add the thyme, tomato paste, and stock. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 20 minutes.
Vegetarian: Use a ladle to transfer 1 1/2 cups of the vegetable-roux mixture to a small saucepan. Add the Quorn or tofu, stir gently to combine. Simmer over medium heat.
Put the shrimp in the remaining vegetable-roux mixture in first pot. Simmer over medium heat until the shrimp have curled and turned pink, 5 minutes. Season both etouffees with salt, cayenne, and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or grits. Comment often. It gets lonely in blogland.