Sunday, November 29, 2009

Much Mahalos: Part III - Smothered with Love

As a Thanksgiving Treat, I thought I would share my recipe for the seafood etouffe, I made on Thanksgiving.   I say share my recipe, but that's not entirely accurate, because I never cook with a recipe.   To me, cooking is all about expression, like painting or playing the piano.  Every time I cook something, I add things dependant upon how I feel that days, and the flavors that I want to try to coax out the food.   So I hate following recipes, which to me, rob the creative aspect of cooking.   But if you want to follow what I did, I'll be happy to share.    

Etouffee is a French / Creole dish that I learned in New Orleans.   It literally means to "smother", so basically it is a seafood dish where the seafood is smothered with a rich buttery gravy.   You can use any type of seafood really, although the classic preparation uses Mississippi mud bugs, otherwise known as crawfish.  Since crawfish is actually somewhat difficult to come by here in the islands (I've only ever seen frozen crawfish tails at Daiei), I've substituted some other mixed seafood.

Here's what you'll need (notice the precise measuring system I use):

Ingredients for Seafood Etouffee
Some Seafood - In this case the seafood mix at Daiei (now Don Quixote).  
Some Garlic (minced or whole is fine)
Some butter
Some flour
Some plain tomato sauce (not spaghetti sauce or tomato paste)
Some cajun seasonings, in this cause I've used Big Kevin's Bayou Blend, but your favorite blend will work

So here's what you do:

Melt a stick of butter in a saucepan on LOW heat (I'd say around 30% heat works fine).  I know, I know.  An entire stick of butter sounds really unhealthy for you.   Yes, you can substitute something like Country Crock, I've done it before.   But seeing as how this was Thanksgiving, I didn't feel like holding anything back, so I opted for the real thing, for the real full bodied taste.    At least I didn't go completely old school and use pure lard.

As in all classic French of Cajun cooking, you start with the phrase, "make a roux".  If you don't know what a roux is, it's basically the basis for all gravy in the world.  You start with the melted butter.  Then, very slowly you sprinkle in a little bit of flour, all the while stirring very vigorously.   I can't stress this enough, you have to stir like a mad scientist on speed.  If you're not meticulous in your stirring, your roux will have chewy little lumps in it, not at all what you want.   Keep sprinkling in flour and stirring like crazy until you get the consistency of pudding (or better yet, 1 finger poi). 

Next you can sprinkle in some minced garlic.  If you like garlic like me and my wife, you want to add a lot.  Unfortunately, my uncle doesn't like garlic, so I limited myself to 2 butter knife bladefuls.  But feel free to add more.  You want to brown the garlic in your roux.  But all the while, you want to keep stirring (although you can stir a little more slowly now).  Never let a roux sit still or it will burn.  You must keep stirring even if it feels like your arm will fall off.   When your roux is the color of a shiny new penny, then you're done.

When your roux is ready, you can add in your seafood.   I used 3 mixed seafood trays from Holiday Mart (I mean Don Quixote).  These trays have a nice assortment of squid, little clams, some shirmp and other goodies.  The best thing is that they're remarkably cheap.   Each tray is only around $3.  You can't beat that for seafood!   Of course if you can, get langostinos or crawfish tails, for the real authentic dish.

After dumping in your seafood, add in your cajun seasonings.   Most cajun seasonings are primarily paprika, but there are many different blends.   The one I use, Big Kevins, I actually get shipped in from my cooking school in New Orleans, so you know that the taste is authentic.   One thing that they taught us in class, is to be liberal when adding seasonings.   I think I dumped in roughly a quarter cup or so.   Again, this is where personal expression and taste comes in to play.

Stir your seafood around for just a minute or two.   Just long enough to cook it "rare".   Then you can cover the whole thing with your tomato sauce.  I used about 2 cans.

Stir it all together.  Then, put the lid on and let is simmer for a while on low heat (I'd say around 10% heat).

The whole recipe is pretty simple (once you get the hang of making a good roux).   And it's pretty fast to cook too.   Total time is only about 20 minutes.   I would say before you start making this, start cooking your pot of rice.   When the rice is done, your etouffee can stop simmering, and you're ready to serve it over the rice.

Of course cooking is a big thing in my family, as everyone (except my dad) cooks at least 1 dish for Thanksgiving (and all major holidays for that matter).  For better or worse, I learned to cook the same way that my mom does.  She never follows a recipe either, and every time she cooks something there is always some slight variation to it.   When she cooks something that comes out really well, she always makes the claim that she's not sure she can ever recreate it, but we know that while it may never be exactly the same, it will still taste great.   I really wanted to pass on this passion for cooking to my children, who already love playing with miniature pans and plastic food.  So this Thanksgiving I encouraged my son to cook his first pot of rice, to go along with my etouffee.   I can't wait for the day, when I can use him as a sous chef to prep everything for me and wash up afterwards.

The seafood etouffee is a spicy, savory, buttery melange that you just can't get easily here in the islands.  Sometimes, when you want something truly special, you just have to make it with your own hands.

1 comment:

  1. my poor little boy boy. that's called child labor.