I suppose that every locale has its culinary purists. In the Northeast there is only one true way to make a pot of Italian gravy — although there are 23 million versions of that one true way. Here in Texas we tend to agree that beef makes the best barbecue, but some of us are hardcore pecan wood users, while others swear by mesquite. Not to mention, there’s the sauce vs. no sauce debate.
Still, no matter how much we swear by veal in our Italian meatballs or a dry-rub on our brisket, our kitchen insistence doesn’t hold a flame to the stand-firms in Louisiana.
There are plenty of cooking styles down on the bayou, but Cajun and Creole reign supreme. The main difference between the two cuisines — tomatoes. Cajun recipes traditionally don’t include them because they were too expensive back in the day. The Creoles, who were considered the upper crust settlers, use tomatoes regularly. If you ever confuse Cajun and Creole food in Louisiana, you’ll likely find yourself on the receiving end of a French-laden tirade.
I break a few rules with my recipe for Crawfish Étouffée (translation: smothered crawfish). For starters, I use a smidgen of tomato paste. Secondly, I use yellow or red bell pepper opposed to the traditional green. And goodness knows what an old-school Cajun chef might think about my addition of heavy whipping cream and Old Bay seasoning. But the result is a sumptuous stew-like concoction that I’d serve to a crowd of Cajuns and Creoles alike.
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- 4 TB (1/2 stick) – Butter
- 2 TB – Vegetable oil
- 2 – Celery stalks, chopped finely
- 1 – Small yellow onion, chopped finely
- 1 – Bell pepper (I prefer yellow or red), minced
- 1 – Garlic clove, minced
- ¼ cup – All-purpose flour
- 3 cups – Stock (chicken or shrimp)
- 4 – Small Thyme sprigs, minced -or- 1 tsp dried Thyme
- 1 TB – Tomato paste
- 1 TB – Old Bay seasoning
- 1 tsp – Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp – Cayenne pepper
- 1 lb – Crawfish tails, cleaned and cooked (See Notes for substitutions)
- ½ cup – Heavy (whipping) cream
- 1 TB – Louisiana-style hot sauce
- Few drops – Worcestershire sauce
- 2 TB – Chopped fresh parsley
- In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat with vegetable oil. Add celery, onion and bell pepper and cook until soft – about 5 minutes. Add garlic and flour, stirring constantly, until flour becomes a pale gold color, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, thyme, tomato paste, Old Bay, black and cayenne pepper. Bring to a heavy simmer and cook until mixture has reduced slightly and has a stew-like (thickened) consistency – about 10 minutes.
- Add crawfish tails and bring back to a simmer; add remaining ingredients and cook until everything is just heated through – about 2 minutes.
- Serve with rice and hot French bread, if desired.