Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cooking the Book – My New Orleans – Crawfish Étouffée

Picking out a favorite New Orleans chef is an arduous task. You have so many hometown favorites like Paul Prudhomme and Frank Brigsten or transplants like Emeril Lagasse. I could never pin it down to one person, but one of my favorites is John Besh. Of course when I read he was coming out with a book, I was ecstatic and knew I had to have a copy.


I nearly threw out my back when I get my hands on this behemoth. I’ve read “My New Orleans” weighs in at over 5 lbs. I’m not sure the average cookbook weighs, but this one seems to be on the heavy side. All weight aside, this book is a masterpiece. Not only do the recipes and pictures look amazing, with each chapter having its own theme and captivating introduction, it’s actually a pleasant book to read.



After reading through most of the recipes, I had my heart set on making veal grillades and bbq shrimp, but when Paul Anthony’s was out of veal shoulder and gulf shrimp, I went for the equally impressive crawfish étouffée.


Besh is known for his locally sourced Creole dishes and this recipes is one of his “master recipes”. I suppose this is a master recipe because the crawfish can be easily replaced with shrimp or crab. Anyway, the recipe looks simple enough, but I first need to make a quart of “basic shellfish stock”.


Like any good stock, this one starts with a lot of vegetables.


1 onion, 1 carrot peeled, 1 leek (white part only) all roughly chopped and 4 cloves of crushed garlic.


It’s into a pot with ¼ cup of canola oil over medium heat. The idea is just to soften the vegetables not brown them. Once softened, 3 quarts of water, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of fresh thyme, and 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns were added to the pot. Now it’s time to the shellfish of the shellfish stock.


Shellfish stock seems to be a pretty open ended recipe. I could use 1 pound of shrimp shells, blue crab, crawfish, or lobster. I decided to use a few frozen blue crab shells that I had picked up at Paul Anthonys.

Bring everything to a boil and then back it down to a simmer.


2 hours later, I had a good looking stock.


After straining through cheesecloth, I had 2 quarts of shellfish stock.


You think I could now get back to the étouffée but no, I need 3 cups cooked “Basic Louisiana white rice”. Of course even that is deceptive. The recipe for Besh’s “Basic Louisiana white rice” calls for 1 tablespoon butter, 1 small onion minced, 1 ½ cups Louisiana long grain rice, 1 bay leaf, 1-2 pinches of salt and 3 cups of basic chicken stock.


Basic chicken stock is the exact same as the shell fish stock. I just used 1 pound of chicken bones instead of 1 pound of crab shells.


That’s a much darker stock than I was expecting, but now I’m ready to get the rice going.


I love the my rice cooker, so I was convinced I could use it to make this recipe.

First the fat is added to a medium saucepan and the onions are sweated until translucent. Besh says it takes five minutes, and damn if that man isn’t right.


Next all the rice is added and cooked for 2 minutes.


Instead of pouring in the stock and slapping on a lid, I poured the rice into my rice cooker.


Added the bay leaf, stock and salt, and pressed the button to start the cooker.


When the cooker clicked off, I was surprised to see a much moister rice than I was expecting.


Even after fluffing it with a fork, this was a very moist, rich rice.


With both stocks and the rice made, I can finally start on the étouffée


Just so I won’t be scrambling around the kitchen, I’ve got my mise en place ready.


First comes the roux. 3 tbs of canola oil is heated over medium high and then 3 tbs of flour is whisked in.


The whole process is supposed to take 15 or so minutes. After reducing the heat to medium and constantly whisking I had a nice peanut butter color.


Soon the roux got darker.


After more time and much, much more whisking I had the dark brown I was looking for.


In went 1 small, diced onion. Besh devotes a fair amount of time to describing the perfect roux and how you add the onions first and allow them to caramelize.


If you add all the vegetables at once, you won’t get the great dark, shiny roux you see above.


Here it is right before I add the rest of the vegetables.


Now the rest of the produce is added.


1 stalk celery diced, half a red bell pepper diced, 2 minced cloves of garlic, the leaves from 2 fresh thyme sprigs, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, and 1 tsp of smoked paprika.

The colors quickly changed from light.

Five minutes later that dark color was back.


Here’s where my time begins to pay off.


One quart of shellfish stock and 1 small tomato concasse are next in the pot.


The pot is turned to high, brought to a boil and then reduced to a moderate simmer.

After 5-7 minutes, I can’t tell much difference, but it’s now time for the butter.


3 tablespoons of butter were next.


No one ever said creole food was healthy.


Then the 1 pound of peeled Louisiana crawfish tails


Finally the 2 chopped green onions are thrown in the pot.


After seasoning with 2 dashes of Worcestershire, 2 dashes of Tabasco, and salt and pepper, here is my pot of crawfish étouffée

All I need now is the rice


Ok, so I don’t have the presentation skills perfected yet.


When I actually tried the étouffée, I was surprised at how much the crab from the shellfish stock shone through. I was also amazed at how soupy it seemed to be. I thought I did something wrong, but looking at the pictures from Besh’s book, the étouffée seems like it’s supposed to be that soupy.


Maybe it’s me, but I prefer a slightly thicker étouffée. Also, this dish needed a bit more cayenne. With a little more spice thrown in, the étouffée was more to my liking. Even with the soupy setback, I’m not discouraged; I’m going to be spending a lot more time cooking from John Besh’s “My New Orleans”.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a nice review. I too made the etouffee yesterday and was disappointed with the soupy consistency of the end product. Also, my final product had the same color as yours. The picture in the book shows a much darker colored end product. The taste was excellent although I have eaten etouffee in LA that is dark brown in color and much thicker than what I produced. I love Besh and will continue cooking from his book but I wonder if anyone knows how to fix this?