A Quick New Orleans Shellfish Étouffée

Serves 4 to 6

This recipe can be found in my memoir, Where I Come From: Life Lessons From a Latino Chef.

This is the first dish I cooked for my mom at a dinner party after I finished training in New Orleans. It’s a rite of passage in a cook’s life to really get to show off for the people they love, and I couldn’t wait to make this for everyone when I came back. I must’ve been seventeen at the time, and seeing my whole family take such pleasure in eating my food was a defining moment.
Later, when we had a challenge to celebrate New Orleans culture and food heritage, I cooked this on MasterChef. Everyone, Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich included, ate it up.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

  • ¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour

  • ½ yellow onion, finely chopped

  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • ¼ cup (60 g) tomato paste

  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced

  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

  • ½ teaspoon celery seed

  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 cups (480 ml) seafood stock

  • 1½ to 2 pounds (680 to 900 g/21 to 25 medium to large) shelled

  • and deveined shrimp, crawfish tails, lump crabmeat, or a combination

  • 2 cups (240 g) cooked white rice

  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced

  • Hot sauce for serving (I like to use Crystal, from Louisiana)

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a Dutch oven or large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. When it stops bubbling, adjust the heat to medium-low and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring regularly, until it’s smoothed out a bit and is a dark blond color.

  2. Stir in the onion, bell pepper, celery, and salt. Adjust the heat to medium and sauté until the onion is translucent and the vegetables begin to soften, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, thyme, spices, and bay leaf and toast them for a minute or two.

  3. When the tomato paste no longer smells raw, pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the stock has thickened slightly but is still actively, rapidly simmering, then fold in the seafood. Careful not to overcook—it’ll only need 3 to 5 minutes—and remove the Dutch oven from the heat when the meat is opaque but still tender.

  4. Ladle the étouffée over scoops of warm or room temperature white rice and top with fresh green onions and hot sauce.

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