Literally translated, étouffée means to smother or suffocate. That might sound scary in a murder-by-pillow or mother-in-law-with-no-boundaries kinda way, but when it comes to food, no. That sounds dreamy.
Who doesn’t desire mashed potatoes smothered in gravy? Or their macaroni suffocated by cheese?
Yes, smothering when it comes to cooking can definitely be a good thing.
Étouffée (pronounced ay-too-FAY) is a popular Cajun-Creole dish of a thick, spicy stew of crawfish (or shrimp, depending on the season) and vegetables served over white rice. Also called crayfish, these freshwater crustaceans are found in the Mississippi basin and are considered one of the official foods of Louisiana, where they also call them crawdads, according to The New Food Lover’s Companion. There’s nothing delicate about eating these crustaceans: You gotta get in there with your hands and suck out the sweet, tender meat.
The deep, rich color and flavor of étouffée come from its base of orange-brown roux, a mixture of flour and butter or lard used to thicken sauces and soups. The term “à l’étouffée” means the method of cooking food in a tiny amount of liquid, with the lid on, and over very low heat.
Louisiana’s crawfish étouffée can be traced back to the crawfish capital of the world, Breaux Bridges, Louisiana. According to Louisiana crawfish farmers and brothers Mike and Mark Fruge’s Cajun Crawfish blog, étouffée was first served in the Hebert Hotel in the early 1920s. The Herberts shared their recipe with their friend, Aline Guidry Champagne, who later opened the RendezVous Café and served the dish there.
Cajun cooking is a robust, country-style combination of French and Southern cuisine that comes from today’s Cajuns found in the Deep South of U.S. They’re descendants of French Acadians, whom the British forced from their Nova Scotian homeland in 1785, according to the Companion. The local Indians transmuted the word Acadians to Cagians and, eventually, to Cajuns.
People confuse Cajun cooking with Creole cooking, and the truth is, the cuisines have cross-pollinated so much by now every assertion is up for debate. They’re both found in Louisiana and both claim étouffée, jambalaya, and gumbo, but some say the more genteel Creole food has more tomatoes and Cajun more spices. Cajun cooking uses dark roux and plenty of pork fat. Creole cooking loves its butter and cream. Both cuisines worship the culinary “holy trinity” of chopped green peppers, onions, and celery.
Étouffée is so similar to gumbo, it’s easy to confuse those two as well. But you can tell the difference because étouffée has a lighter-colored roux and it’s usually thicker than gumbo.
Regardless, it’s all good. Try some of these ways to étouffée.
Brunch: Crawfish Pie
Julie May creates a crawfish étouffée filling enveloped by a flaky pie crust that your brunch bunch will rave over in between sips of mimosas or bloody Marys. Get the recipe.
Lunch: Shrimp Étouffée
Jocelyn Delk Adams can make this dish in only 40 minutes and says the flavor is bonkers. It’s easy once you conquer the roux part in the beginning. Although it calls for shrimp rather than crawfish, the recipe has all the traditional ingredients, like the onion, celery and bell pepper holy trinity. Get the recipe.
Crawfish Étouffée Cornbread Bites with Honey Mustard Sauce
Take the best parts of étouffée and incorporate them into something baked that’s a cross between a muffin and cornbread and you get an appetizer that is so good, you’ll ruin your appetite for dinner. You might want to serve these next to some soup and call it a meal itself. Or bring them to a party. Get the recipe.
Fried Crawfish Étouffée Balls
OK, take that creamy, spicy, shellfish goodness and roll it into a ball and fry it? Yeah, that can’t be bad. First, you’ll need to make the étouffé using another recipe. Then you take 2 cups of that to make this. You can use regular white rice, or Alice Morrow’s preferred yellow rice. Get the recipe.
Broiled Tilapia with Crawfish Étouffée
Hey, maybe you don’t want all that rice. Ladle that deliciousness on a spiced tilapia fillet. This recipe comes from Burnside, Louisiana’s Cabin Restaurant, and it’s in their cookbook, too. Get the recipe.
Healthy Crawfish Étouffée
Making this dish healthy is possible, no lie. The secret is in the roux. You can use a healthy fat, that much-loved olive oil, instead of lard or butter. Try Holly Clegg’s slim-and-trim version and see for yourself if you feel compromised. Get the recipe.
— Head Image: Chef Jeremy Langlois.