Etouffee: Another classic dish with which my only experience is a crappy chain restaurant.
Thankfully, in this case it is not The Cheesecake Factory; at least it was a crappy Cajun-themed chain restaurant. But a chain restaurant nonetheless.
How have I never been to New Orleans? It just seems wrong. I love good food, they have good food, ergo, I should go there. Etouffee? Gumbo? Jambalaya? Beignets with my coffee? Public drunkenness? Yes, please. And yet, I’ve never been.
You know what’s not wrong? John Besh. Also not wrong is his book, My New Orleans, a massive hulk of a tome that can be used both to cook from and to knock out home intruders, if you’re strong enough to wield it. John Besh was a guest judge on Top Chef last night, and such is the force of his presence that I didn’t even mind that Paula Deen was also involved.*
I decided to start classic, if a little easy: etouffee. With shrimp, sadly, rather than crawfish, because the lowly crawfish is not easy to come by here in New Jersey. I hear tell you can get frozen crawfish tails at Dean and Deluca, but I have better things to do with my hard-earned dough than pay their exorbitant SoHo rent. Having once, in a pinch, purchased a $12 box of lentils there – yes, LENTILS – I feel no need to return any time soon.
*Okay, I still minded a little.
I was a little over-excited about the roux-making process; I love a good roux, but have only ever made the barely-cooked kind for cheese sauces and bechamels. Like any good New Orleans dish, etouffee starts with a good dark roux, a nutty-smelling milk chocolate-colored slow-cooked mixture of butter and flour.
Part of me didn’t really believe I’d be able to do it without scorching the roux to hell and back, so I watched with barely-contained glee as the roux slowly toasted to a deep brown. I threw some onions in to caramelize in the dark roux and the smell was so luscious, I almost had an untoward moment.
While the onions did their thing, I chopped the rest of the aromatics – garlic and the remainder of the trinity, bell pepper and celery – and pulled out the other spices and seasonings the recipe called for; worcestershire, hot sauce, smoked paprika, cayenne, scallions.
I also pried the lids off my containers of fish stock. Yes, I bought the fish stock. No, I’m not sorry. Thursday is a weeknight, the last time I checked, and I need my beauty sleep.
The veg and spices went into the now-mahogany roux and onion mix and cooked for a few minutes before the stock joined the party.
The sauce simmered away, thickening gently, while I pulled out the shrimp. I had more than two people could eat, which is unfortunate, because shrimp doesn’t make good leftovers – I have no plans to be the person in the office who microwaved the seafood. I thought about giving some to the dogs, but remembered that they are picky bastards who don’t like the texture of shrimp. In the end, I just dumped ’em all in the pot because we are, after all, gluttons.
While the shrimp poached in the sauce, I fluffed the white rice I’d been cooking with a fork and was pleasantly surprised to find that I’d only burned a small portion to the bottom of the pot, rather than the bulk of the rice. Success!
So like I said, I’ve never been to New Orleans, and I’ve never had real etouffee, but this dinner was fucking delicious. Rich, spicy and warming, with some texture from the veg and perfectly-cooked shrimp. Brian, who has been there and has had the real thing, proclaimed it to be authentic and far superior to my chain restaurant control group – which isn’t really a surprise, since we’re talking about John Besh.
The whole thing pulled together in about 45 minutes, so it’ll definitely be making a repeat appearance on my weeknight table.
This one’s for you, Heather.