There are still tickets to our New Orleans Cooking Class! Check it out!
Last Spring my family flocked from all over the country to gather in New Orleans, the city where my Dad grew up, the fifth generation of Capos to do so. It was the first time my siblings and I had been to New Orleans as adults with my father, and therefore the first time we really got to know the city through his eyes.
It was also the first time we really got to experience New Orleans through taste. Whether a kid or an adult, New Orleans is a very special food city.
New Orleans culinary tradition goes back hundreds of years. The French Canadian founders of New Orleans mingled their French culinary roots with those of NOLA’s native residents in 1718. The Spanish then brought their love of rice and spice in 1763, followed by the hosts of settlers and slaves who brought ingredients and flavors of the Caribbean and West Africa. Essentially, since its birth, New Orleans has been a melting pot of people, all of whom contributed to the rich evolution of the city’s cuisine. Combine this with its position on the river full of seafood and the semi-tropical climate, you get one fascinating food world.
When I was a kid, we would sometimes visit my grandmother who lived just outside of New Orleans. I don’t remember very much of those visits beyond the beignets–glorious beignets–that I made sure to stuff in my face at every opportunity. On this most recent trip, I stuffed beinets shamelessly, but I also stuffed my face with many other things as well, including oysters, po-boys, gumbo, Crawfish Monica, and sno-balls. The sno-balls were especially fun. There is a sno-ball stand on Plum street near where my Dad grew up, and he got to see not only his adult children but also his grandchild sitting on the same bench where he used to sit enjoying the same childhood treat he used to enjoy.
But of all the things that blew my mind, it was the crawfish. I never really appreciated crawfish until this trip. Let’s just say that I will never be the same after the crawfish boil at Clesi’s. Even my 2-year-old got in on the fun.
To share the flavors of New Orleans, I want to whet your appetite with one of my favorite recipes of all time: shrimp étouffée. (Bless you.)
Making étouffée is not a short process, but it includes many critical skills that kids can practice, including dicing vegetables, learning what a roux is and making one, sautéing, whisking, and flavoring to taste. Most étouffée all start (or should start) with a roux, or fat mixed with flour and toasted, and incorporate the “Holy Trinity” of onions, peppers, and celery. After that, recipes begin to differ. I’ve found a happy medium starting with this recipe from Emeril Legasse*, but I add a few of my own tricks.
My first trick is the use of Zatarain’s Shrimp and Crab Boil CONCENTRATE. Many grocery stores carry Zatarain’s as a single-use spice pouch, but this is NOT what you want. You want the little bottle of golden liquid concentrate. Publix stocks it, as does Amazon. It will last you a long time, and it’s one of the best pantry investments you can make. Be careful when you open it as just a few drops go a long way. NOTE! Avoid touching your eyes with this stuff. This golden gem is so powerfully packed with flavor that just a teaspoon added to a few cups of water creates all the flavor you need.
My next trick is to add several ingredients right at the end of cooking. As soon as the shrimp finishes cooking, remove the pot from the heat and add a generous splash of fresh lemon juice, parsley, green onions, and most importantly, powdered Gumbo File. The file, or ground sassafras leaves, adds this savory, earthy, delectable essence you won’t be able to live without. The lemon juice somehow rounds out the saltiness and spiciness of the dish and keeps guests going back for seconds.
I am pleased to report that even guests who have never had étouffée before–kids too–find themselves licking the bowls.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
2 cups chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp paprika
5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Zatarain’s Shrimp and Crab Boil Concentrate
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
1 tbs lemon juice
Steamed white rice, for serving
Gumbo Filé, to taste
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir continuously to make a roux. Stir the roux over low to medium heat until the color of dark peanut butter.
Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic to the roux, and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes to the pot and season with the bay leaves, salt, cayenne, oregano, paprika, and thyme. Cook the tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes and then whisk in the water and Zatarain’s concentrate.
Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook the etouffee, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pot, stirring to evenly distribute. Cook the shrimp for 3 to 6 minutes, or until they are cooked through. Remove from heat before the shrimp overcook. Add the chopped parsley to the pot and stir to combine. Add gumbo filé to taste, or let your eaters add filé themselves.
Serve immediately over steamed white rice and garnish with sliced green onions.