roux

Étouffée (or Etouffee)

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.

Shrimp Étouffée

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.

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Food Thickener: The Final Step in Making Gumbo

Struggling to make sense of the religious disconnect in the news, I tried to offset it with a food analogy that works – Gumbo. A stew that originated in the south, the Creole gumbo is a blend of several cultures (West African, French, and Native American) and culinary influences (Spanish and German). The success of all the variables coming together is in the final step, the addition of a thickening agent.

A food thickener or agent is usually added at the end of cooking to enrich the stock. There are several options to condense the cooking liquid: reducing the liquid to a concentrate in order to intensify its flavor (such as a wine reduction); bringing it to a velvety-smooth consistency by adding cream, whisked egg yolk or yogurt; or adding a starch, such as cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot, or flour.

There are three ways to thicken gumbo, but the most commonly used method is to add roux. Roux, which is made with equal parts flour and butter and slowly cooked over low heat, is added to hot gumbo stock. The starch in the flour breaks down to become gelatinous, and gives heft to the stock without altering the flavor. Mastering the roux is key to making a good gumbo. The roux starts out as pale-cream in color, and is the base for béchamel or white sauce for soups. When the flour and butter continue to cook further it turns a warm toffee color. This darker roux is less of a thickener than its paler counterpart, but imparts a nutty flavor associated with gumbo.

 

 

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The other two methods of thickening gumbo stock are using filé (dried sassafras leaves) or simply letting okra and the vegetable trifecta of onions, bell pepper, and celery cook down. There are meat gumbos with Andouille sausage, chicken, and turkey or shellfish gumbos with shrimp and crab. Gumbo is both haute cuisine and an everyday meal. My interpretation (as I cannot call upon a family recipe) of the dish was made with essential gumbo ingredients that I had at hand.

 

Shrimp Gumbo

Flour – 4 tbsp

Unsalted butter – 4 tbsp

Shrimp – 1 ½ lb, with heads and shells

Vegetable oil – 3 tbsp

Onion – 1, diced

Garlic cloves – 3, minced

Okra – 10 pods, sliced lengthwise

Bell pepper – 1, diced

Celery – 3, diced

Tomato – 1, diced

Bay leaves – 2

Dried thyme, oregano, basil – ¼ tsp each

Cayenne pepper and paprika – ¼ tsp each

Salt and pepper – ½ tsp each

Green onions – 3, chopped (garnish)

Cooked Rice – as accompaniment

 

  • To make the roux: Heat a cast iron pan. Add the 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 it has reached a deep brown, remove the roux from the heat. Keep aside.
  • Shell and de-vein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Make a shrimp stock by adding the heads and shells to 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cook on low for about 20-25 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Keep aside.
  • Heat the oil in another pan.
  • Add the onion to the hot oil. Sauté until they are lightly browned.
  • Add the garlic and okra and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the bell pepper, celery, and tomato to the mixture. Cook on low for about 5 minutes, stirring so that the okra is crisp.
  • Add the herbs, salt, and pepper.
  • Add the hot stock and continue to cook for about five minutes. Add the roux a little at time, stirring continuously so it is incorporated into the stock.
  • Add the shrimp and cook for a minute on each side. Remove from heat as soon as the shrimp turn firm and pink in color.
  • Serve with cooked rice. Garnish with green onions.

 

 

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