Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Crawfish etouffe... smother some goodness

Mardi Gras is Feb. 24 this year, and the chefs at The Culinary Institute of America suggest you celebrate it Cajun-style by serving Crawfish Étouffée. (Note: It'll work with shrimp, and I've even substituted chunks of catfish fillets for this dish).

According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, the humble crawfish (known more widely as crayfish) owes its stardom to the Cajuns and is plentiful in the freshwaters of Louisiana's bayous and lakes. Crawfish finds its way into many dishes, but the little crustacean is mostly identified with étouffée, a Cajun translation of "smothered," derived from the French étouffer.

"Étouffée is the name given to dishes like this one that are gently cooked in a covered pot," explains CIA Chef Kathy Polenz. "Crawfish, or crayfish, are sold live or as cooked meat. If you buy crawfish meat, look for the words fat-on. Crawfish fat is an integral part of a good étouffée."

So, let the chefs of the CIA show you how to "laissez les bon temps rouler!" ("let the good times roll!"), by cooking up a pot of Crawfish Étouffée for Mardi Gras this year.The following recipe can be found in The Culinary Institute of America's One Dish Meals (2006, Lebhar-Friedman) cookbook, which is available for purchase at bookstores nationwide.

Crawfish Étouffée
5 servings

3 tablespoons bacon fat or canola oil
1 1/2 cups minced onions
1 cup minced celery
3/4 cup minced green bell pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon mild paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or as needed
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
Salt as needed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fish or chicken broth or as needed
1 1/4 pound crawfish tail meat with fat
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green portions
1/4 cup basil chiffonade (cut into fine threads)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the bacon fat or oil in a casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat until it shimmers.
Add the onion and sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the celery, bell pepper, and garlic; cover the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the paprika, white and black pepper, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; sauté, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and pasty, about 3 minutes. Add the broth and stir well to work out any lumps. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the crawfish tails and their fat. Cover the pot and cook over very low heat, stirring frequently, until the crawfish is cooked through and very hot, 8 to 10 minutes. Add a little more broth as needed throughout the cooking time if the étouffée is getting too thick. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Add the butter, scallions, basil, and parsley and stir to combine. Serve the étouffée in heated bowls.

Nutrition analysis, étouffée without rice per an 11-ounce serving: 340 calories, 27g protein, 16g carbohydrate, 18g fat, 370mg sodium, 95mg cholesterol, 2g fiber.