Master a Cajun classic in 30 minutes with this easy shrimp étouffée

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – A little ritual helps me settle in each time I move into a new home. I cook with a treasured recipe.

Last December, my husband and I relocated from New Orleans to Washington for my new job as Recipes Editor at The Washington 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 favourites. The term étouffée (AY-too-Fay) means to smother. 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 sautéed vegetables.

I bet your recipe repertoire includes some variation on this theme: Sauté 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 sautéing “the trinity”, or Cajun/Creole mirepoix, of onion, celery and bell pepper.

Shrimp étouffée, an easy-to-make dish from the Creole-Cajun canon and perfect for chilly weeknight supper. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

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 flavour.

SHRIMP ÉTOUFFÉE

Active: 20 minutes | Total: 30 minutes

4 servings

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Three medium cloves garlic, minced (about one tablespoon)

One large white onion, finely diced

One stalk celery, finely diced

1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper

Three scallions, finely diced

Two tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Three tablespoons unsalted butter

Three tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 pounds peeled, deveined medium (41-50 count) shrimp, thawed if frozen

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

One teaspoon Creole seasoning

STEPS

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 two 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 colour, about five minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and continue stirring to allow roux to darken a bit more. When the roux is the desired colour, 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.

NUTRITION

Calories: 540; Total Fat: 39g; Saturated Fat: 11g; Trans Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 280mg; Sodium: 570mg; Carbohydrates: 12g; Dietary Fiber: 1g; Sugars: 2g; Protein: 36g.