Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras!

Living in New Orleans during Mardi Gras gives you a true understanding of the certain magic that city possesses. For weeks leading up to the actual day, the tension builds one parade at a time. Folks prepare their costumes as painstakingly as a bride planning a wedding. And when the big day finally arrives the entire city seems to hum with excitement. Whether watching the big parades reach Canal Street or reveling in the chaos of the French Quarter, everyone focuses on the sheer fun of living. For most Americans it's just another Tuesday, but for New Orleanians it's time to shine.

In honor of Mardi Gras, I offer up our recipe for Crawfish Etouffee -- a treat any time of the year but especially during the festive season.

Crawfish Etouffee

Most would refer to this as a classic Cajun dish -- meaning that its roots lie in the countryside southwest of New Orleans. Etouffer means "to smother" in French, which seems like a good connotation for this light stew. We keep ours pretty traditional -- starting with a roux, going in with your trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper), and finishing with the crawfish. You wind up with a heartwarming meal in very little time.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
1/2 cup chopped celery (about 1 1/2 medium stalks)
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (about 1/2 large bell pepper)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 medium garlic cloves)
1 quart chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
About 20 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
1 pound crawfish tails, cooked
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Steamed white rice, for serving

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add 4 tablespoons of butter and melt. Add 1/4 cup flour and cook, stirring constantly, until your roux has become a caramel color, about 10 minutes. Add onion, celery, and bell pepper; stir to combine. Add salt, oregano, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, and red pepper flakes. Cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add stock and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cook until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Add crawfish, green onions, remaining tablespoon of butter, and hot sauce; stir to combine. Cook until crawfish are hot to touch, about 3 minutes.

Serve over steamed white rice with hot sauce for garnish.

Yield: 4 servings

P.S. You can easily order frozen crawfish tails online if they are not available in your area. We order ours from www.lacrawfish.com -- and they are superb. You can also substitute a pound of shrimp -- adding them with your green onions, butter, and hot sauce and cooking them until they are just pink and firm, about 5 minutes.

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