Etouffée means “smothered,” and that’s the idea. It’s not a long-cooked stew. My mother’s version of this Cajun classic is important to me not only because it’s very good, but also because of a poignant memory it always triggers. One afternoon in 1984, I brought Mama a big bag of boiled crawfish, and she made a pot of this étouffée. My father, 75 and ailing, ate a big plate of it. He remarked how good he thought it was, then went off for a nap. He never woke up. It is my fondest wish that I shuffle off this mortal coil the same way.
It’s best to make this from whole boiled crawfish, so when you peel them, you can extract the fat from inside the head. (Your finger will do the trick.) That adds lots of flavor to the étouffée. One more thing: Crawfish tails are addictive, so bring home lots of them.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup flour
½ stick (4 Tbsp.) butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 green onions, greens only, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ripe tomato, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped celery
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 basil leaf
1 bay leaf
3 cups crawfish tail meat from boiled crawfish
Fat from crawfish heads
3-4 dashes of Tabasco
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked long grain rice
¼ cup very finely chopped green onion, for garnish
1. Make a medium-brown roux by heating the oil in a large saucepan over mediumhigh heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns the color of a fallen leaf. Add the butter, allowing it time to melt and mix in.
2. Add the yellow onion and sauté until it’s barely brown around the edges. Add the green onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until tender. Add the tomato and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then add the celery, parsley, basil leaf, and bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Add the crawfish tails, crawfish fat, Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 10-12 minutes more. Remember as you add the salt and pepper that the boiled crawfish already have a good bit of both. Serve over rice, topped with finely chopped green onion for garnish.