Monday, November 7, 2011

Shrimp Etouffee. Rosie Style.

Rosie is experimenting today.
I wanted something different.
I wanted something spicy.
 I wanted a different cuisine.
I decided on shrimp étouffée, or smothered shrimp. Étouffée is a dish found in both Cajun and Creole cuisines. Now for a little history on these cuisines. Cajun and Creole are closely linked, though each has its own specific identity. Both are Louisiana born with French roots. The Cajuns originated in southern France and emigrated to Nova Scotia in the early 1600's, establishing a colony that came to be called Acadia. The British drove the Catholic French out of Nova Scotia in the mid-1700's and many of them migrated to Louisiana. The ingredients in Cajun food changed depending upon where you lived and what was available. The Cajuns were tied to the land and were rugged and adaptable. Life was a day-to-day, season-to-season struggle to sustain their families and their culture. If you lived near the coast, shrimp and other seafood was used. Farther inland, where there was no salt water, crawfish and turtle would be used. Rice is an abundant Louisiana crop and is a staple of Cajun cooking. There was an endless supply of game. There was beef, chicken, pork, and all sorts of vegetables. Primary seasonings would include bay leaves, parsley, cayenne, file powder from the sassafras tree, and a variety of peppers, such as cayenne, banana, and tabasco. Cajun cooking is very old. It's considered country cooking - simple, hearty fare. More than likely, their meals came out of one pot - one dish which combined all the natural ingredients of Louisiana. Creole cooking, like Cajun, also depended heavily on the availability of foods, but unlike Cajun, Creole originated in New Orleans. Creole refers to the original European settlers who settled mainly in the New Orleans area. These Creoles came from affluent, aristocratic families of Paris, Madrid, and other European cultural centers. Creole is a mixture of the traditions of numerous cuisines which made their way to New Orleans - French, Spanish, Italian, Germany, African, as well as American Indian and other ethnic groups. Each time a new nation took control, members of the deposed government generally left the city, but left their cooks and servants behind. The position of cook was highly esteemed and was the highest paid household position. The cooks, most of whom were black, would be hired by the incoming families, often of a different nationality, and the cooks would have to change their style of cooking. After a period of time, the cooks learned to cook for a variety of nationalities, incorporating their own home-style, spicy way of cooking into the different cuisines of their employers. And thus Creole cuisine was created. Creole is city-cooking - more sophisticated and complex than Cajun. It was not unusual for a Creole dinner to consist of numerous courses. Most Louisiana recipes begin with, "First you make a roux." From the French influence came the smooth, rich sauces and soups. The Spanish also played an important role in developing the spicy nature of Louisiana dishes by introducing the red pepper. The Spanish rice dish of paella is the forerunner of Louisiana's jambalaya. The Germans brought charcuterie to the table, introducing andouille, smoked sausage, boudin, chaudin, tasso, and chaurice. African cooks brought the vegetable okra to the area when slaves were traded. They called the vegetable gumbo and the name was eventually adapted to the rich stew made with okra, vegetables, and a combination of seafood and meats. Louisiana settlers learned of file powder, a thickener and seasoning made from the dried leaves of sassafras tress, from the Choctaw Indians of the Gulf Coast. In homes in Louisiana today, there's still a distinction between Cajun and Creole; in restaurants, not so much. Chef Paul Prudhomme, owner and renowned chef of K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen and a Cajun, has started referring to the two together as one - Louisiana cooking. 

Without further ado I give you Rosie's riff on Shrimp Étouffée.
My ingredients:
1/2 large onion
 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
 1 stalk celery, chopped
 4 garlic cloves
 2 jalapenos, minced
 1 TB Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
 Texas Pete or Tabasco to taste
1 heaping tsp sweet paprika
1 heaping tsp cayenne powder 
Creole seasoning to sprinkle over shrimp before sauteeing
 1 pound shrimp
1 quart shrimp stock
 1 TB fresh thyme
 1 TB fresh oregano
Stick of unsalted butter
sliced scallions and chopped cilantro for topping

2 TB peanut oil
 2 TB butter
 1/4 cup flour
Chopped onion, pepper, and celery - the Holy Trinity of Louisiana cuisine.
Minced garlic.

The shrimp stock heats up while I start cooking. It's pure shrimp aroma. First, you make a roux. A roux is nothing more than a mixture of equal parts flour and oil. Traditionally, animal fat would be used, but I'm using a mixture of butter and peanut oil. The roux serves not only to thicken your liquid, but also to give a distinctive texture and slightly nutty taste to your food, characteristic of many Cajun dishes. I use a combination of butter and oil because I want the taste of the butter; however, butter has a low smoke point and will burn quickly. By adding the oil, I still get the butter taste but also a higher smoke point.
When the butter melts and is smoking hot ...
... add in the flour gradually and cook over low heat, stirring constantly. You do not want the roux to burn. If any black specks appear in the roux, it's burned. Toss it and start over. A roux, depending on the dish, is cooked to different colors. According to Prudhomme, a light or medium brown roux is used in sauces or gravies for dark meats such as beef, deer, duck, and geese. Dark red brown and black roux are used in sauces and gravies for light meats such as pork, rabbit, veal, fish, and shellfish. The darker roux are used for gumbos also. I'm heading for a peanut butter-colored roux because a really dark roux scares me. I'm worried about burning it.
Keep stirring.
I'm aiming for a "safe" peanut butter brown.

Add in the Holy Trinity - onion, pepper, and celery - and the jalapenos.
 Cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring.

Lower the heat a bit, add in the garlic, and cook another minute or two.
It's easy to burn garlic, so don't. Burnt garlic is bitter.
Sweet paprika in the mix.
Cayenne joins the pot.
Very slowly, add in the hot shrimp stock. Stir constantly so it incorporates. The roux will absorb the water and seize up at first, then loosen. Add enough of the stock (about 3 cups) until the sauce is the consistency of syrup.

My fresh thyme and oregano. About a tablespoon each.
A tablespoon of Lea & Perrins.
 Taste test.
I admit I had to taste this 4 or 5 times.
Just to be sure.
 Set aside and keep warm.
 When you serve this, offer the Texas Pete or some type of hot sauce.
I lightly dusted my shrimp with a Creole Seasoning. The ingredients listed on the container said, "salt, red pepper and other spices, garlic, silicon dioxide. I only read this later and tasted it later. When I tasted this all I could taste was the salt, pepper, and garlic. Have no idea what the ubiquitous other spices were. If you want to make your own spice mix, Paul Prudhomme recommends this:
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried sweet basil leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
My shrimp are going into a hot iron skillet with peanut oil and 1/2 stick butter over medium high heat. You want the butter foamy, but not burning. The peanut oil keeps the smoke temperature higher. All you need is a tablespoon or two.
Place the shrimp in a single layer. About 1 1/2 - 2 minutes on one side.
Then turn to the other side. Cook another minute or so.
Notice the shrimp above is not quite done.
When the shrimp looks like that ...
... add in a cup or so of shrimp stock.
Add another 1/2 stick of butter and cook until butter melts into the sauce, constantly shaking the pan back and forth, not stirring. When butter melts, oil is released and shaking the pan and adding the hot stock keep the sauce from separating and being oily. Stirring does not produce the same effect. If your shaken sauce starts to separate, add in a tablespoon more of stock and shake away.
Shrimp and sauce are ready to serve.

I plated a mound of jasmine rice, then poured the set-aside sauce around the rice, topping with the shrimp in its sauce. A few sprinkles of sliced green onion and chopped cilantro gave the dish a pretty green freshness.

This is one of those dishes that you keep wanting to take another bite of because every bite is slightly different. They're all very good,with depth and complexity, and you just can't get enough. I loved the flavors here. The shrimp flavor is big but the sauces magically round everything out. My tastes buds are extremely happy.
And guess what else Rosie made to add to the shrimp etouffee?
If you guessed hushpuppies, you'd be correct.
Recipe forthcoming.
I do wish you'll give this a try.
You'll be happily surprised.
 I had this for lunch the second day and I believe it was even better.
 Didn't think that was possible.


Marilyn said...

That does look delicious. I think I will have to make some soon.

Catherine said...

Oh, Dear Rosie, I read every word. I thank you for the explanation of the difference between Creole and Cajun foods. I never knew! You also walked me through the steps of a roux. I just love your cooking. The shrimp sounds great. I am sure that the flavors just got better for the next day. Thank you and blessings, Catherine xo

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Blessings to both Mar and Catherine!