A little ritual helps me settle in each time I move into a new home. I christen the kitchen with a treasured recipe.
In December, my husband and I relocated from New Orleans to Washington for my new job as Recipes Editor at The Post. As we unpacked in our rowhouse on a chilly, overcast day, I knew just what we needed to warm our bellies and push back against the strangeness of new surroundings: an étouffée.
In addition to filling the air with familiar scents, this unfussy comfort food is perfect for hectic moving days, because it has few ingredients and comes together in 30 minutes.
It is a classic from the canon of Cajun and Creole favorites. The term étouffée (AY-too-Fay) means smothered. In food parlance, that means the proteins, usually shrimp or crawfish tails for this dish, are “smothered,” or simmered, in a sauce of fats and sauteed vegetables.
I bet your recipe repertoire includes some variation on this theme: Saute vegetables until softened, add a quick-cooking protein and create a comforting sauce to serve over a starch or grain.
This recipe allows home cooks to practice two fundamental skills required for much Cajun and Creole cooking: making a roux and chopping and sauteing “the trinity,” or Cajun/Creole mirepoix, of onion, celery and bell pepper.
Like with many beloved recipes, interpretations of étouffée vary — even within families. Some people insist it feature tomatoes — crushed or paste; some say never. Some thicken the sauce with a roux; others say it should be thinner and lighter. Some insist the fat be butter; others allow for more healthful substitutes, such as olive oil.
I came by this recipe through marriage. It’s how my husband, a Cajun from Cut Off, a tiny town in Lafourche Parish, just before Louisiana meets the Gulf of Mexico, makes it. But even I tweak his version a bit, subbing in olive oil for most of the butter, retaining just a couple of tablespoons in the roux for flavor. This one is light on the spices, too. Some folks add bay leaf, thyme, a squeeze of fresh lemon or another pinch or two of fiery cayenne. We add garlic to ours, which some dismiss as a no-no. We also like to use red bell peppers rather than the traditional green.
That’s the beauty of cooking at home, right? You get to make a dish the way you like it. That might be your grandmother’s full-fat version or a lighter take that suits a more healthful diet.
As the new Dinner in Minutes columnist, I know I must earn your trust. I hope this étouffée gets us off on the right forkful.
I hope it kicks off a conversation about how to get dinner on the table on weeknights after school or work, or on errand-filled weekends. I may not make a recipe exactly the way you would, but I will do my best to ensure these dishes are accurate, simple and, most importantly, delicious.
Please share your favorite cooking shortcuts and easy-to-make dishes with me. Ask me questions. Make suggestions. And, if you make a recipe that I suggest, please send me a photo at email@example.com, or share it with the hashtag #eatvoraciously, and let me know how it turned out.
This easy-to-make dish from the Creole-Cajun canon is perfect for chilly weeknight supper.
Recipe notes: This dish requires no stock. The moisture from simmering the raw shrimp will create the liquid needed for the sauce, which is thickened with a dark-brown flour-based roux and seasoned with Cajun/Creole “trinity” of onions, celery and bell pepper. If the sauce is too thick, add water or stock, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency.
One caution: It’s easy to overcook shrimp as cooking time will vary with the size and freshness of the crustaceans, so simmer the shrimp until they are pink and curled. Then, pluck out one to do a taste test.
About that roux: If you’ve never made a roux, don’t be intimidated. It’s simple. Combine equal parts fat and flour over medium heat and stir until you reach the desired color. The darker the roux, the deeper the sauce’s color and flavor. This recipe is a great way to practice because it only uses 3 tablespoons of flour and 3 tablespoons of butter. If you go too far and scorch the roux, pitch it, and start again.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 large white onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
3 scallions, white and green parts, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 pounds peeled, deveined medium (41-50 count) shrimp, thawed if frozen
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cooked white or brown rice, for serving
In a Dutch oven or deep-sided pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, scallion and parsley. Cook, stirring, until softened and with onions just beginning to get translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
In a small pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook, stirring, until the roux darkens to a light brown color, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and continue stirring to allow roux to darken a bit more.
When the roux is the desired color, add it to the vegetables and stir until fully incorporated.
Return the Dutch oven to medium heat. Add the shrimp, cayenne and Creole seasoning and stir to combine. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink and are cooked through, about 10 minutes. (The cooking time will vary with the shrimp size.)
Taste and season with more cayenne and Creole seasoning, if desired. Serve right away over cooked white or brown rice.
If going low-carb, the étouffée is good over steamed riced cauliflower. Sprinkle with the chopped green onion or parsley, if desired.
Storage: Store the cooled étouffée in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the term étouffée was translated incorrectly. This version has been corrected.
Recipe from Ann Maloney.
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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More easy shrimp recipes from Voraciously:
Calories: 540; Total Fat: 39 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Trans Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 280 mg; Sodium: 570 mg; Carbohydrates: 12 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 36 g.