Étouffée is a French term meaning smothered in sauce. I did a bit of research on its history and the dish isn’t really that old. I was surprised to learn it wasn’t a staple in the restaurants of New Orleans until the 1950s. Nowadays, it is probably on more menus than not all over the south.
This dish was originally made with crawfish in the bayous of the Mississippi River by the Cajun and Creole people who lived in the swamp. However, you can make it with any shellfish you’d like — and shrimp are more readily available than crawfish here.
Étouffée can be made in either Cajun or Creole style. There aren’t many differences other than the roux that you have to make. The Creole version calls for a blond roux. The Cajun version uses a dark roux, which is achieved by cooking the flour longer and constantly stirring until it has a nutty aroma and appears very dark in color. Both are usually served on a bed of rice.
When it comes to spiciness, that’s up to you. How much heat you want to add to it? Most of the étouffée that I tasted while in New Orleans was spicy but not super-hot like some of the other dishes I tasted while other there. For example, the barbecue shrimp with rosemary was so hot I didn’t eat it. I also didn’t find the combination of rosemary and cayenne complementary.
The étouffée, on the other hand, was pretty good just about anywhere I got it. When I was there, there were several sidewalk carts that served étouffée and gumbo right on the street, and that’s where I found some of the best étouffée in New Orleans. Trust me, it’s a great late-night treat after enjoying some of the famous bars and taverns of the French quarter.
New Orleans is still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. But I’m sure that after the city and the rest of the delta has been cleaned up, that those étouffée carts as well as the famous restaurants will be back open and serving up this classic dish.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.