This buttery Crawfish Étouffée recipe, rich with flavor, comes from a fisherman's wife
Melissa M. Martin wrote the cookbook “Mosquito Supper Club” to document Chauvin, Louisiana, the Cajun village where she grew up. Chauvin has been devastated by rising seas and coastal land loss. Hurricane Ida caused more damage, further imperiling Martin’s hometown.
The International Association of Culinary Professionals recently named “Mosquito Supper Club” as both the American cookbook of the year and the overall cookbook of the year.
About the recipe
In French, étouffer means “to smother.” An étouffée looks like a stew. It is thicker than a gumbo; it’s eaten with a bit more rice than a gumbo, and it has a concentrated shellfish taste. It is sweet, with a touch of acid from the tomatoes, and so buttery. The crawfish give this étouffée a deep, rich profile, but not so rich that you can’t have a second bowl. My favorite étouffée is from Kay Brandhurst, a fisherman’s wife who sells shrimp at the Crescent City Farmers Market. She suspends crawfish and in-season Creole tomatoes in butter, and it is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. My version, a nod to Kay and her mean kitchen skills, uses a roux and crawfish stock to deepen the flavor.
Serves: 6 to 8
Total time: 3 hours
1 pound (4 sticks/455 g) unsalted butter
2 pounds (910 g) yellow onions, diced
1½ pounds (680 g) ripe tomatoes
¼ cup (30 g) diced green bell pepper
¼ cup (30 g) diced celery
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup (65 g) all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 L) crawfish stock (see below) or chicken stock
4 pounds (1.8 kg) crawfish tails, with fat (see Note)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Original Louisiana Hot Sauce, plus more as needed
Cooked rice, for serving
¼ cup (13 g) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
¼ cup (20 g) finely chopped green onions, for garnish
Warm a 15-quart (14 L) heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat for 3 minutes, then add the butter. When it has melted, add the onions and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 35 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, stir, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and let the vegetables smother together for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are completely broken down. Add the bell pepper, celery, and garlic and stir. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes more, until the vegetables are very soft, with no bite remaining. Add the flour and whisk until completely incorporated.
Add the stock and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 45 minutes. If you have crawfish heads from a boil, you can add them while simmering down the stock for extra flavor.
Put the crawfish tails and any fat from the bag in a large bowl and season with the salt, black pepper, cayenne, and hot sauce. Add the tails to the pot and stir to combine. Cook over low heat until the crawfish is heated through, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the étouffée over rice, garnished with the parsley and green onions.
Note: If you’re buying precooked crawfish tails, look for a package labeled “with fat” or “fat-on.” If you’re using home-boiled tails, make sure you reserve the heads, and throw some into the pot when simmering. You can serve them with the heads or remove them before serving.
Shrimp or Crawfish Stock
For this stock, you add the heads of shrimp or crawfish in the last couple hours (rather than start with them as you do with chicken). You wait until the vegetables have developed flavor, then add the heads. The heads can’t cook all day like chicken bones or beef bones; they start to break down, so you really just want to simmer them for a couple hours.
Makes 1 gallon (4 L)
3 pounds (1.35 kg) crawfish heads
3 pounds (1.35 kg) yellow onions, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
Stems from 1 bunch parsley
1 bay leaf
Pinch of kosher salt
Start with all the vegetables in a stockpot, cover them with water, and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 2 hours so the stock develops full flavor, then add the crawfish heads if you’re making crawfish stock or shrimp heads if you’re making shrimp stock. Simmer the heads in the stock for another 1½ to 2 hours over low heat. You want to draw all the flavor out of the heads but not get to the point that the shells are starting to break down into the stock.
Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019.