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Etouffee and Gumbo


The background of cajun and creole cooking is as fascinating to this cook as the actual dishes.  Time-Life American Cooking: Creole and Acadian is one of the best sources for both background and recipes.  Creole cooking evolved from as early as 1699 out of a need by French colonists to make  up for a lack of ingredients for traditional ingredients.   Out of this came a blend of Indian herbs and ingredients,  West Indian spices and vegetables (e.g., mirlton, a type of squash), Caribbean dishes and spices, and Spanish and African ingredients and techniques.

Cajun cooking followed when the French Acadians were deported in 1755  from Nova Scotia by the English.   Whole families were separated and often never reunited.   They were eventually accepted by French and Spanish Catholics in southern Louisiana.  "Acadian" became "cajun" when locals found themselves unable to pronounce the former.  Cooks made up for the lack of eel and lobsters in the Gulf area by substituting shrimp and crabs.  The Spanish contributed hot peppers, the Africans offered okra, and Indians from the region taught local cooks how to use ground sassafras leaves, later called file powder.  The results, etouffee and gumbo, no longer resembled the original bouillabaisse stew. 

Etouffee is generally made only with shrimp or crawfish.  Gumbo usually includes some type of sausage and a variety of mild-tasting fish and okra supplements the roux as a thickener.  The vegetables in the two are very similar.  Jambalaya, an original Louisiana mixture of shrimp, oysters, chicken, sausage, and vegetables, is made with less liquid and the rice is mixed in with the fish and vegetables.

Paul Prudhomme introduced  cajun and creole cooking to Americans, and, it's safe to say, to the world.  It combines the best of cooking ingredients among French and Spanish cooks, with some unique American  He uses tomato sauce or tomatoes in 2 of 3 of his seafood gumbo recipes. He prefers andouille smoked sausage in his gumbo recipes, but says any good pure smoke pork sausage like Polish kielbasa is acceptable. Most his seasonings include thyme, oregano or basil, and red, black, and white pepper.  Bell peppers, onions, and celery are also basic ingredients, as in most gumbo recipes. One of his recipes calls for "seven-bone steak or beef neck chops and uses beef stock as its base, but it also includes shrimp.

This cook prefers gumbo and etouffee with a clear stock with very little roux. The beef-stock version is very good. The recipes below are adapted from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, Time-Life American Cooking: Creole and Acadian, Better Homes & Gardens Cajun Cooking, and Betty Crocker's Best Recipes for Fish and Shellfish.    See other Gumbo recipes and  tips on  Cooking Shrimp and Roux.  Adding cooked greens makes the gumbo very similar to Calalu.   Mound 1/3 cup of rice on top. 

1.  Gumbo

For the seasoning:
1 1/2 t each cayenne pepper and sweet paprika
1/2 t each white pepper, black pepper, thyme, and oregano
1-2 bay leafs, crumbled

For the thickener (roux):
2 t file powder and 2 T cooking oil, or 1/3 cp each flour and cooking oil, depending on how thick you like your sauce

For the base:
1 cp onions, chopped
1 cp celery, chopped
1 cp green bell pepper, chopped
2 cps okra, sliced or one 10-oz package frozen, thawed, sliced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T Tabasco sauce
2 cps chicken broth or fish stock (bouillon cubes are OK)
cooked greens, to taste, sliced and simmered for 12-15 minutes (opt)

For the seafood:
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled
6-8 oz crab meat, or
1 1/2 cp cooked chicken or cooked catfish, red snapper, or other mild-tasting fish

1. Cook shrimp, or poach chicken or fish. Chop the latter. Combine with shrimp and set aside.
2. If making a roux, combine flour and oil and cook in large heavy skillet (cast-iron is best)over medium-high heat about 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture is dark and thick.
3. Add onions and garlic.Stir well and cook about one
5. Reduce heat to medium. Add vegetables and stir well to coat.
6. Add Tabasco, and seasoning. If using file, add now, stirring constantly.
7. Add broth and bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes.
8. Add seafood, chicken, and sausage.

2.  Etouffee

(Serves 4-5 people)

2 lbs cooked crawfish or shrimp, shelled (except shrimp tails, if desired)
3 cps heated fish or chicken stock
4 cps cooked rice

4 T prepared brown roux, or to taste

1 cp onions, finely chopped
1 cp scallions, including 3" of the green tops, finely chopped
1/2 cp celery, finely chopped
1 t garlic, finely chopped
1 cp each finely chopped red bell pepper and green bell pepper
1 16-oz can tomatoes, finely chopped
1 T Worcestershire sauce

For the seasoning:
1 t ground hot red pepper (cayenne)
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t white pepper
1 t dried sweet basil leaves
1/2 t dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
salt to taste

1. While the rice is cooking, cook shrimp if necessary, drain and refrigerate till ready to use.
2. Heat the roux in a large heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high.
3. Remove from heat immediately and stir in chopped vegetables and a tablespoon of seasoning.
4. Return to heat and gradually add 2 cups of  heated stock to roux mixture. Whisk till thoroughly dissolved.
5. Remove from heat and set aside.
6. Add shrimp or crawfish.  (It can be browned in a little oil if you have the time.)
7. Add etouffee mixture and the other cup of stock.
8. Add remaining seasoning and cook about 4-6 minutes, shaking pan vigorously.
9. Serve with a scoop of cooked rice on top; or, serve rice separately, if preferred.