At this time of year in particular, comfort foods are often top of the list of things we crave. However I for one can’t do too many heavier dishes. That’s where seafood stews and curries are perfect, in my mind. They have just the warmth and comfort in a tasty sauce but feel that bit lighter due to the seafood. We love dishes like Catalan fish stew, romesco de peix, or Nyonya shrimp and pineapple curry but this crawfish etouffee has now joined the list. Lots of delicious flavor, it’s a fantastic meal.
What is crawfish etouffee?
Crawfish etouffee is a classic Louisiana dish that seems to be originally Cajun, with Creole variations as well. It uses what is known as the ‘holy trinity’ of vegetables in Cajun cooking as a base – onion, celery and bell pepper. Actually, some versions omit celery, but that’s probably the more Creole versions. It also has a roux, the cooking down of oil/butter and flour, garlic and cayenne, also core to Cajun cooking. Crawfish goes by other names in different places (I talk more about that here), but is common in Louisiana cooking too.
I’m not an expert by any means, but from what I have read it seems there are only slight variations between Cajun and Creole cooking, and much of it is down to the people and location. Cajun is from the country, and Cajun is more city food. As a result, Cajun tends to have broader influences and access to ingredients. You’ll see dishes that use more exotic ingredients and take more time (since the cooking was historically done by slaves). Creole cooking will not typically use tomatoes while Cajun would in eg jambalaya. The roux that’s the base to many dishes is often with oil in Creole cooking while with butter in Cajun.
How it’s made
Traditionally you make the roux first and then you add the vegetables but you flip things around. I’ve opted for this way both as it speeds things up and makes for an easier roux. It also lets you use less butter and oil – a traditional etoufee uses a LOT of butter (or at least some plus fat from the crawfish). True, this way will really only be a light roux rather than a dark version which will have more flavor, but I think there’s enough flavor from everything else that it’s worth the cheat. I’ve used a mixture of oil and butter, so you get a bit of the butter flavor without overdoing it. After softening the vegetables, add the spices then flour, cook a little, before adding the stock. Cook down the sauce slightly then add in the crawfish, cook a couple minutes before you serve over rice.
Crawfish etouffee is such a comforting dish with delicious flavor. It has a little spice to it that you can increase to your taste. It’s a dish you might see at a Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana. But for many, it’s a firm favorite for many an occasion, and I can understand why. Give it a try and you’ll see why.
Crawfish etouffee (lightened up)
A classic Cajun dish, given a little bit of a lighter edge but still packed with delicious, comforting flavor.
- 1/2 onion large, or 1 small
- 1/2 green pepper
- 1 stick celery
- 2 scallions/spring onions
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter 15g
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 cup fish or chicken stock 240ml (possibly 1-2tbsp more, as needed)
- 1 tsp tomato paste tomato puree
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 lb crawfish tails 450g (pre-frozen is fine but ensure defrosted and don't rinse)
Finely dice the onion, pepper and celery and finely slice the scallion/spring onion. Finely dice the garlic.
Warm the oil and butter in a pan over a medium heat and add all of the chopped vegetables and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until they are all softening and the onions are translucent.
Stir through the thyme, paprika and cayenne and cook a minute then add the flour. Stir through and cook, stirring now and then, for a couple minutes. You should notice a slight nutty smell and it darkening slightly. You may need to reduce the heat a little so it doesn't burn.
Add the stock, mix well and scrape away anything that is stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the tomato paste and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10min or so to thicken a little. Add the Worcestershire sauce and crawfish, cook for another 2-3 minutes to warm the crawfish through then serve over rice.