Crawfish and Shrimp Etouffee

Here’s one of my many mottos:  If it’s spicy, there’s a good chance I will like it. 

Having lived most of my life in the South, I have had the joy of eating some excellent Tex-Mex and Cajun food.  Both cuisines tend to lean toward the spicy side and I like to make it lean just a little bit more!

Etouffee and gumbo are similar in that they are both served over rice but gumbo is more like a stew, comprised of various types of seafood, meats and vegetables.  Etouffee usually only has one type of meat and the sauce is thicker than gumbo.  Crawfish Etouffee is the quintessential Etouffee but don’t rule out the shrimp or chicken versions.  Use what you have in your kitchen. 

Etouffee, which means “smothered” in French, is a classic Louisiana dish.  There are two basic types of Etoufee:  Creole and Cajun.  The Creole variety uses a dark roux and the flavors are deep and complex.  The Cajun variety uses a light roux and is spicier than the Creole version. 

30 minute Crawfish and Shrimp Etouffee

Yes, this only took 30 minutes to cook from start to finish.  But, here’s the catch.  I did a lot of prep work a few days before I made this dish.  Previously, I cleaned and de-veined the shrimp, parboiled them and stored the shrimp in the refrigerator.  I peeled the steamed crawfish and stored them in the refrigerator. 

I made stock reductions from the crawfish and the shrimp and then I made compound butter using the crawfish and shrimp reductions.  All of that work took a considerable amount of time, but it was worth it.

The rest was easy.

Ingredients:

1 ounce compound shrimp butter

2 ounces compound crawfish butter

2 garlic cloves, mashed

1 Tbs unsalted butter

½ onion, chopped

3 ribs of celery, chopped

2 ounces flour

3 green onions, chopped

2 Tbs tomato sauce

1 ½ Tbs Cajun seasoning

1 cup water

½ lb raw shrimp (peeled and deveined)

½ lb crawfish meat

Directions:

In a large skillet, add the shrimp butter and crawfish butter.  Turn heat to medium/low.  

As the butter melts, add garlic and sauté for about one minute.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the onion and continue stirring for another minute.

Add the celery and stir.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. 

Add the flour and whisk or stir, to form a roux. 

Add 1 cup of water and stir until a thick sauce forms.

Add tomato sauce, green onions and Cajun seasoning.  Stir to combine.

Add parboiled shrimp and crawfish.  Stir briefly.

Serve warm with white rice.

Shellfish Stock / Compound Butter

Fresh shellfish can be pricey so I like to get as much bang for my buck as possible.  One of the easiest ways to extend the value of shellfish is to make a stock from the heads and shells.  Once the stock has been made, it can be stored for later use and can be used in many different dishes.  The unique flavor of shellfish can turn a mediocre dish into something exotic. 

Making stock can be as simple as boiling the heads and shells in water and then straining the solids and reserving the liquid.  Spices, herbs or vegetables can be added to give the stock extra depth of flavor. 

I plan on making some seafood pasta dishes so I made stock from shrimp and crawfish shells.  I bought one pound each of crawfish and shrimp.  One pound of crawfish results in a paltry amount of crawfish meat and the majority is shells and heads.  Shrimp produces a little more meat but you’d be lucky to get half a pound of cooked shrimp from a pound of whole, raw shrimp.

So, with that in mind, I made crawfish butter and shrimp butter.  The flavorful compound butter can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, or in the freezer for months. 

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh shrimp (these were Gulf shrimp)

1 lb steamed crawfish (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs…whatever you wish to call them)

½ cup unsalted butter, divided in half

Directions for the shrimp:

Remove the heads from the shrimp.  This can be done by gripping the head and pulling away from the rest of the body.  If you are squeamish about this sort of thing, get over it.  It becomes an automatic process after a few decapitations.  Toss the heads into a bowl and set aside.

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Rinse the shrimp under cold water and store in an airtight container.  Add the shells to the bowl containing the heads.

Put the heads and shells into a skillet.  Cover with water and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring and pressing the shells occasionally.   

Strain the solids and discard. Pour the stock into a container and refrigerate or freeze, if desired.

Directions for the crawfish:

Unless you go gigging for crawfish, which is to say, catching your own live crawfish, you will either get them freshly steamed and seasoned or refrigerated, after they were seasoned.  Either way, they are probably going to be seasoned with Cajun spices, and that’s a very good thing.

I prefer to eat steamed crawfish while they are still hot, but this time I only snacked on one and used the rest for an Etouffee. 

Remove the heads from the crawfish and peel the shells.  Reserve the meat. 

Not a lot of meat, but ohhh, it’s so good!

Add the heads and shells to a skillet and cover with water.  Simmer for 30 minutes and strain the solids.  Discard the solids. 

Save the stock in the refrigerator, or freeze.

Making compound Butter

If you want to make compound butter with shrimp stock or crawfish stock, simmer the sauces further.  Simmer at high heat and whisk constantly. Reduce the sauce until nearly all of the moisture is gone. 

I reduced the shrimp stock down to about 3 tablespoons and I reduced the crawfish stock down to about ¼ cup.

Turn the heat off and add ¼ cup butter.  Whisk to incorporate.  Pour the butter into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate.  Once the compound butter solidifies, turn it out on some plastic wrap.  Fold the wrap over the butter.  I like to add extra layer of plastic wrap to get a good seal.  Refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Crawfish Season!

Hooray! The crawfish are here, the crawfish are here!

Every year, around this time, crawfish and shrimp vendors start popping up at local gas station parking lots. They set up shop on the weekends, with pick up trucks and trailers for about 6 weeks and then they vanish, as quickly and as quietly as they arrived, returning to the bayous. But, while they are here, I have access to the biggest, freshest and most succulent gulf shrimp and wonderful, spicy, hot Cajun crawfish .

Most of these vendors only take cash. I rarely carry cash but, when these guys roll into town I don’t mind making a trip to the nearest ATM and withdrawing money from my bank account. I drive back to the seafood guys waving cash in my hand. Yes, it’s really that good.

I remember a time, just a few years ago, when I saw the crawfish guys boiling their shrimp and cawfish and I panicked, realizing that I was nearing the end of their short season. It was Saturday, around 5:00 pm. I drove the 3 miles to the bank teller machine and withdrew some cash. By the time I returned, they had already packed up and were gone. Gone! Gone for good, at least until the next year.

Never again. Lesson learned. I will not let the moment escape me. Even if all I get is a tiny sample of some briny shrimp or a few scrawny crawfish, I won’t pass up the opportunity to savor some of the finest food this world has to offer.

I am not a creole chef and I wasn’t raised on the bayou. I’m not Cajun…I’m Texan true and true, but I am forever mesmerized and enamored by the lure of fresh gulf seafood and funky, backwater fare.

Something good happens when the shrimp are set to boil. The world is a happier place when hot, red crawfish are pulled from the pot. Mystery and wonder fills the air. Friends are made instantly. Smiles become contagious. Romance is at hand. No struggles, no strife.

Grab a drink. Find a seat. Tell us a story.