Even a week after Mardi Gras’ end in New Orleans, the colorful bead garlands continue to drape trees along the parade route. A time for simplicity that follows all the merrymaking seems harder to shed in the city, especially one noted for its soupy gumbo, meaty jambalaya, and crawfish étouffée (pronounced ay-too-fay). It is here on a cool February afternoon as I was enjoying étouffée, a seafood dish ladled over plump rice grains, that I realized that this dish could be even further enhanced with compound butter.
Étouffée originated in the bayous of Louisiana where crawfish, a small lobster-like crustacean, is plentiful. When crawfish isn’t in season, shrimp is substituted and is “smothered” (from French verb, étouffer) in a creamy roux sauce. The shellfish flavors in the dish are developed through a two-step process. Combining shrimp stock with butter makes shrimp compound butter, and this modified butter provides the base for a rich roux.
Raw shrimp (with shells) – 1 lb
Butter – 4 tbsp
Flour – 2 tbsp
Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely
Garlic cloves – 2, minced
Bell pepper – 1, de-seeded and chopped
Celery stalk – 1, chopped
Bay leaf – 1
Seafood stock – 1 cup
Cayenne pepper – 1 tsp
Red chili pepper – ¾ tsp
Fresh pepper – ½ tsp
Salt – ½ tsp
Lemon – ½, juiced
Green onions – 3, chopped finely
Parsley – 3 tbsp, chopped
Cooked rice – for serving
- To make the stock: Shell and devein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Make a shrimp stock by adding the heads and shells to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cook on low for about 20-25 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Divide the stock, keeping one half of the stock with all the shells.
- To make the shrimp compound butter: Add 4 tbsp of butter to the stock with the shells. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Strain the shells, and allow the liquid to cool. The butter will solidify and can be skimmed off the surface to become shrimp compound butter.
- To make the roux: Heat a cast iron pan. Add the shrimp compound butter. When it melts, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, stirring and incorporating it into the butter. Keep stirring on simmer. As the roux cooks, it loses the floury taste. The color changes from white to cream to brown, and the aroma from sugar cookie to toffee.
- Once the roux has turned to a rich brown color, add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, celery and bay leaf and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
- Add the cayenne pepper, chili flakes and pepper. Sauté for one minute.
- Add the stock, salt and bring to a boil. Whisk so that the roux and stock are well mixed. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Add the shrimp and cover and cook for 5 minutes until the shrimp has turned pink. Do not overcook.
- Just before serving, add the lemon juice, green onions, and salt. Garnish with parsley.
- Serve over cooked rice.