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Bit of the Bayou - for two

Got an envie for some étouffée, cher?

The cajun food of Louisiana, especially of the bayou, is definitely comfort food and étouffée (meaning "smothered") is a flavorful example. There are quite a few steps involved, especially if you go ahead and make a shrimp stock to use in it, but the payoff is delicious. I thought I'd break down the process here and share it with you. So ... allons to the kitchen.

Phase One: Let's make shrimp stock.

I could do a whole blog on the weird stuff in my freezer... I do keep a bag of shrimp shells in there which I add to whenever I cook up a few shrimp. I also have a bag of parsley stems and celery tops. When my bags of bits and pieces are fairly full, I go ahead and make stock.

Start by filling a stockpot with around 8 cups of cold water and a handful of salt (about 3 tablespoons) and bring to a low boil. Throw in those celery tops and parsley stems (or a handful of parsley and a stalk or two of celery cut in half). Add an onion, quartered, skin and all. Toss in a couple bay leaves and about a tablespoon of peppercorns. Halve two lemons, squeeze over the pot and then toss the halves in as well. Lastly, add the shrimp shells. Return to that low boil and reduce the heat so you are maintaining a simmer for the next 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, you will need to strain the stock into a glass container. It must be cooled quickly, so set it in your clean sink, fill the sink with ice and cold water, and give the stock a stir now and then. Once its room temp, you can measure it into freezer containers for future use in a shrimp bisque, chowder, jambalaya, etc. Ha Ha! Added to the eclectic collection in my freezer! (Keep about 1/2 - 3/4 cup out for this recipe.)

Phase Two: Making a brown roux.

Roux is my preferred method of thickening sauces and brown roux is traditionally used in cajun cooking. Roux is simply a cooked mixture of equal parts fat and flour. I use unsalted butter and unbleached flour. For this dish, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat until it began to turn a golden brown and then added 3 tablespoons of flour and continued to whisk and cook until it got all foamy and nut brown in color. Cooking the roux ensures the raw flour taste disappears. The darker the color, the more pronounced the flavor of your roux. In many dishes, a blonde roux is called for in which case you would not brown the butter nor the roux itself, but only cook it until it has a light golden color. Once your roux is made, set it aside.

Phase Three: Let's make étouffée.

Now let's get down to business. We are going to build flavor layer-upon-layer, beginning with "the holy trinity" of cajun cooking: green bell pepper, celery, and onion. The ratio is 1:1:2 and we will use 1/4 cup pepper, 1/4 cup celery, and 1/2 cup onion in small dice. You will sauté this in 3 tablespoons of melted butter over medium heat along with a clove of minced garlic.

As the vegetables are softening, sprinkle in another layer of flavor with the following seasonings: 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (adjust amounts to suit your personal tastes). Add your roux (another layer of flavor) and about 8 ounces of medium size cleaned and deveined shrimp. Whisk in flavor-layer number four, your shrimp stock (about 1/2 cup), until you get the thickness you are looking for in the sauce. Finish it off with a few tablespoons of sliced green onion tops, some minced fresh parsley, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Let this simmer 10-15 minutes. Serve over boiled rice and garnish with a little extra green onion and parsley. C'est tout.

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