Game Day in the Big Easy: Crawfish Etouffee

Update (January 8, 2008): With Paula’s permission, her recipe replaces the previous version. This is the keeper recipe. Thanks, Paula!


Crawfish Etouffee

New Year’s Day foods have to be special, even when they’re not the traditional Japanese fare we usually have (previous post). And since we decided to postpone making sukiyaki until dad’s upcoming visit, something equally special had to fill those proverbial shoes. But what? Well, the University of Hawaii Warriors were playing in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day — first time ever in this Bowl game — and the island was caught up in the excitement of this momentous game. The game was in New Orleans so it seemed natural to make our favorite dish from the Big Easy — Crawfish Etouffee (EH-too-fay).

Package of frozen crawfish tail meat

I’ve never been to New Orleans, so everything I know about it, I learned in my first bowl of crawfish etouffee — It’s earthy and spicy, and little bit naughty. My dear friend Paula, a Nawlins native now residing in Cambridge, Mass., shared her family’s recipe for etouffee with us when she wanted to introduce us to the joys of crawfish. The shellfish in question was already cooked, peeled and frozen — ready to be added to a prepared sauce. This is the only type of crawfish I’ve ever had, but it’s pretty darn tasty — and the frozen pack is a full pound of solid tail meat, no shells. A trick I learned from Paula is to add the frozen crawfish unthawed to the simmering sauce so the all-important liquid “fat” is added to the sauce too. This will add a lot of flavor to your finished dish. (To find crawfish on Oahu, see Honolulu Chinatown post)

In their native habitat, crawfish are actually small lobster-like crustaceans (see drawing on package) similar to langoustines on the Continent, and they are wildly popular in Louisiana —boiled in a spicy brew in vast quantities and eaten from the shell. I’ve not had the pleasure of this Big Easy experience, but until I do, the etouffee will keep us happy.

(The real McCoy)

For the Roux (roo):
3 TBL. butter
3 TBL. flour

Combine butter and flour in heavy-bottomed pan (cast-iron is ideal) and cook on very low heat, stirring constantly, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it achieves a nutty color.
Roux at the start  Roux after 20 minutes  Roux after 40 minutes
An internet version says you can skip making the roux because it makes the etouffee heavy. This might be true of a short-cooked roux, but the longer a roux is cooked, the less binding power it has because the flour is browning and losing its glutinous quality. Instead, the long-cooked roux lends a nutty flavor and buttery finish that is completely lost if this step is omitted. It’s worth the time, trust me.

Crawfish Etouffee with Bruschetta and Tabasco

2 TBL. EACH oil and unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 3/4 cup, 150g)
1/2 bell pepper, finely diced (about 1/2 cup, 85g)
1 large stalk celery, finely diced (about 1/2 cup, 85g)
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 TBL.)
1 cup (160g) minced tomatoes
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 TBL. paprika
1 tsp. thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped (about 3/4 cup, 37g)
1 TBL. Worcestershire sauce
1 TBL. minced parsley
pinch cayenne
1 1/2 cup (375ml) fish or chicken stock
1/2 cup (120ml) dry white wine
1 lb. (450g) crawfish tail meat, with fat

Heat the butter/oil in a pan and saute the onion, bell pepper and celery over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, green onions, thyme, bay leaves, tomato, parsley, salt, and both peppers. Add stock and white wine to the roux and stir to combine, then add to sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add frozen crawfish or cleaned tail meat, cover and simmer another 10 minutes or until heated through.

Serve with boiled long-grain rice, and a side of french bread or Bruschetta. Hot sauce on the table for the brave. Paula also recommends potato salad with this. Now that’s good eatin’!!

I just had to share this bit I heard on the morning news about the Warriors game at the Superdome. It’s a testament to the spirit of Aloha that this state can personify.

Tens of thousands of fans from Hawaii flew out to New Orleans for this historic game. Optimism for another win to top off the Warriors’ undefeated season was raging. Unfortunately, the Georgia Bulldogs have a bite nastier than their bark, and the Warriors faced a crushing 10-41 defeat. Although it seemed clear by the 4th quarter that the Warriors would not be able to rally back to win, and despite the late hour (it was after midnight CST), the overwhelming majority of Hawaii fans stayed to cheer their team. At the game’s end, as the team started to leave the field, the fans gave them a raucous standing ovation. You could see the surprise light up the team’s faces as they stopped dead in their tracks to acknowledge the applause. Now that’s taking care of your ohana (family). In the dark disappointment of the night, Hawaii had brought their Warriors . . . a rainbow.