[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
Shrimp étouffée is the classic Cajun and Creole dish of plump and tender shrimp smothered in a thick and rich roux-based sauce. It’s not cooked like a traditional stew, which means you need to make sure the sauce is deeply flavorful before the shrimp ever enter the pot. This recipe gives you the tools to make étouffée the way you want it: lighter, with a clean seafood flavor, or deep, dark, and complex. The choice is yours.
Why It Works
- Adding less stock to start allows you to better control the consistency of the sauce later.
- You choose how much to brown the roux, for the flavor you want; by adding less stock up front and then adjusting later, the recipe accommodates the diminished thickening power of a darker roux.
- Brining the shrimp with salt and baking soda seasons them throughout and ensures a plump and tender texture.
- For the Shrimp Stock (see note):
- 2 pounds (900g) shell-on shrimp, or 3 pounds (1.4kg) head-on shrimp (small or large shrimp will work in this recipe; size doesn’t matter)
- 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) vegetable or canola oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 large ribs celery, diced
- 4 medium cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) tomato paste
- 1/2 cup (120ml) dry sherry or brandy (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- A few sprigs flat-leaf parsley
- 4 sprigs thyme
- For the Étouffée:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 (8-ounce; 225g) medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 large ribs celery (6 ounces; 170g), diced
- 1 (8-ounce; 225g) large green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced (or, if you want a sweeter flavor, half of a large green bell pepper and half of a large red bell pepper)
- 4 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon hot paprika (optional)
- 3 cups (700ml) shrimp stock, plus more as needed
- 2 bay leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Warm long grain rice, for serving
For the Shrimp Stock (see note): Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shrimp shells; if using head-on shrimp, also twist off the heads and reserve with the shells. In a medium bowl, combine peeled shrimp with the 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and stir well. Refrigerate the shrimp until it’s time to add them to the étouffée.
In a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat until shimmering. Add shrimp shells and heads (if using) and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits as they form on the bottom of the pot, until it becomes difficult to remove the browned bits and there’s any indication they could start to burn, about 4 minutes; lower the heat if necessary to avoid burning at any point.
Add onion, celery, and garlic, and continue to cook, stirring and scraping, until softened. Add tomato paste and stir well until incorporated. If using sherry or brandy, add it to the pot and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits, then add 2 quarts water. (If not using sherry or brandy, just add the water right away).
Add bay leaf, parsley, and thyme, bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for 45 minutes. Strain the stock; do not skim the oil from the surface of this stock (it contains a lot of the shrimp flavor and won’t be a problem for the étouffée).
For the Étouffée: In a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour and stir to form a smooth paste. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom very frequently, until roux turns the color of your choice: light tan, peanut butter–colored, or chocolatey brown. The color of the roux will change the flavor of the étouffée, from mild and light with a sweet shrimp flavor for a blond roux to dark, slightly bitter, and complex for a darker brown one.
Add onion, celery, and bell pepper, lower heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until vegetables are coated in the floury paste and have softened slightly, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and scallion and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in dried oregano, dried thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and hot paprika, if using.
Add the shrimp stock in ladelfuls, stirring well to incorporate between each addition. At first the stock will form a thick, gluey paste with the flour, but it will eventually thicken to a thick sauce. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to maintain a bare simmer.
Add bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, then cover and simmer, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom to prevent scorching, until vegetables are very soft, about 30 minutes.
Stir in shrimp and cook until they just turn pink and are cooked through (this will depend on the size of the shrimp). At this point, if the étouffée is too thick for your taste, add additional stock as needed to thin it to your desired consistency.
Season étouffée with salt and pepper. Spoon into bowl or onto plates with warm rice. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions and serve.
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