By: Devin Smith
New Orleans is one of the culinary capitals of the United States, with a cuisine entirely its own and one that reflects the city’s vast number of cultural influences. As I was growing up there, food was the focal point of every gathering, and there were many because New Orleanians have a habit of finding any reason to celebrate! We are a proud people with an insurmountable love for our unique cuisine that is beloved throughout the world, and one of my favorite dishes that is synonymous with the Crescent City is étouffée.
Étouffée (eh-two-fay) derives from the French word meaning “to smother.” History tells us that the first crawfish étouffée was conjured up in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, the home of the Acadian people and locally known as real “Cajun Country.” In 1959, the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as “la capitale mondiale de l’ecrevisse”—the crawfish capital of the world. (Yes, it’s that serious!)
As with many classic Creole dishes, making the roux is the first step to a delicious and successful étouffée. Combining butter and flour over low heat serves as the foundation for a rich, thick dish with great depth of flavor. An étouffée roux is typically slightly sweeter and lighter in color, similar to that of peanut butter, contrary to a gumbo roux, which is reddish-brown. Once the roux reaches the desired color and consistency, it’s combined with the holy trinity—onions, bell peppers, and celery—setting the stage for what will be a very decadent étouffée. This flavor-packed ingredient trio is common in many classic Louisiana dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, and, of course, étouffée. Because the New Orleans aesthetic and food culture is heavily influenced by the French, the holy trinity is our version of the French mirepoix, which is a mix of onions, celery, and carrots. Together with the roux, this combination creates unmatched flavor that is crucial to the entire dish.
Crawfish season typically starts in November and runs through the end of July, with March and April being the best months to get the biggest and best crustaceans. But if you can’t get your hands on fresh crawfish, using frozen peeled crawfish tails lets you enjoy étouffée year-round.
The key to creating that unique étouffée flavor is time. A slow simmer is what allows the crawfish tails, roux, and seasoning to work together in harmony. New Orleans cuisine is all about layers of flavor, which is why each component is seasoned and cooked separately before coming together into one complete dish. Bon appétit!