A semi-authentic rendition of a New Orleans classic
Shrimp Étouffée and cauliflower grits.
As much as I love southern food and especially the cuisine of New Orleans, If I ate it as regularly as I would like to I would look like Emeril Lagasse does these days. That is to say, ahem, a bit larger than a chef coat can contain. So that leaves me two options, eat it less frequently, or make it healthier. I have chosen the second route but while still managing to keep it authentic tasting and just as delicious.
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Red Onion
3 Celery Stalks
6 Garlic Cloves
1 Head Cauliflower
1 medium tomato
1/2 Cup Grits (not instant, I use Palmetto Farms and its worth it)
1 quart Chicken or seafood stock
1 lb 16-20 Count Shrimp, tail on
3 Strips thick cut bacon
3 Tbsp flour or 1 tbsp cornstarch (you decide, see below)
1 cup milk or water (maybe more)
Salt and Pepper
Creole Seasoning (optional, kind of. I use Tony Chachere's)
Crystal hot sauce (or tabasco)
I use this pot for pretty much everything. Gumbo, soup, grits, mussels, you name it. It holds heat just like a cast iron but since it is ceramic, the glazed surface never needs to be cured and is much easier to clean. I designed the knob on the lid so that it can be easily flipped over and set on the counter. Or you can bring the whole pot to the table full of mussels and use the lid for the shells!
Shrimp – I use frozen. Why? Because I live in Portland and there are no shrimp swimming in the Willamette as far as I know. And I like to have bags of shrimp on hand in my freezer so I can whip this up whenever I want. I usually use 16-20 tail on for this, but you can use any kind shell on or not. I don’t like cooking them shell on here because peeling them once they are in the Étouffée is well, both messy and painful. I pull all the tails and or shells off after they have thawed and put them in a sauce pot with the stock. Bring this to a boil and boom! now you have shrimp stock. Take the shrimp and toss with salt, creole seasonings, paprika and set aside.
Cauliflower – the great impersonator. From rice, to mashed potatoes to polenta to grits, cauliflower can step in and play almost any part nicely. Shrimp Étouffée is usually served over rice but I don’t think any southerner would get their feelings hurt if it was served a la grits. I make my grits for this recipe with mostly cauliflower. Chop it into bits that will fit in a food processor and pulse it until it won’t get any finer. Add some oil to coat the bottom a ceramic dutch oven or any large cooking pot, turn the heat to medium and add the cauliflower. Throw in some salt and cook until the cauliflower starts to give up some of its moisture. Then add ½ cup of grits and 1 cup of water or milk. Stir to incorporate and cover, turning the heat down to low. I keep the liquid to a minimum here because I don’t want the grits to be soupy. The cauliflower will not absorb any water so the mix may look a bit dry for grits when you start but be patient. Cook the “grits” for about 30 min. on low, checking back every 5 min or so and giving it a stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. Cheese? Sure, I add cheese to my grits pretty often. Not a lot but enough. What kind? Whatever scraps I have in my cheese vault. Wait, did I just say cheese vault? Yes, it is otherwise known as a glass-lock container. I keep bits of cheese in here so I don’t have to wrap them in plastic wrap, which is both bad for the planet, and for the cheese.
Bacon – Finely diced and “sautéed” in water. Water?? Yup. So here is the deal with bacon. If you chop it up and just throw it in a pan and start cooking it, it will stick to the pan and begin to crisp and burn long before any of the fat has begun to render. Some cooks remedy this by cooking it in oil which seems well, a bit bonkers to me. I mean for one bacon has plenty of its own fat, and two I don’t want or need the flavor or lower smoke point of some vegetable oil with my bacon fat. That said, if the bacon doesn't provide enough fat to make the roux, you will need to add some oil.
Flour – to make a roux. It's not a proper roux here but it will help thicken things up. Add the flour after the bacon has rendered its fat and begins to brown a bit. Turn down the heat and stir to incorporate. Keep cooking on low for a few minutes. Don’t want to use flour? You can use cornstarch but not just yet. I will tell you when to add that later.
The Trinity – this is the core of creole cooking. And this is a creole dish. There are major differences between Cajun and Creole but I will leave that discussion for another time. The trinity is onion, celery, and green bell pepper. This is the foundation of so many dishes from New Orleans including Étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo etc. Dice finely and add to the bacon roux. Toss in a bit of salt and pepper. Cook the trinity until the onions start to become translucent. Then add the tomato and the garlic and continue to cook for another 10 min.
Stock – Chicken or seafood, home-made. Yes home-made. Sure you can buy it if you want to pay for a container of flavored water (Sorry La Croix drinkers) but I make stock on the regular. Look, I always have vegetable scraps. Mostly because I am lazy and peel off more than just the papery outer layer of onions when prepping them and refuse to peel tiny pieces of garlic. That coupled with the ends of celery stalks and the tops of fennel and you’re good. Take all of those veggies with any bones I have left over from chicken dinners, raw or cooked bones, (yes I save the bones after eating chicken, I mean, the stock is going to boil and simmer for hours ffs) and throw all of the above into a ziplock and put them in the freezer. After I have 4-5 bags of mixed scraps, I make stock. Free stock at that.
Now, if you didn’t want to use flour earlier, now is the time for the cornstarch. Take about a ½ teaspoon of cornstarch and dissolve it in a cup of stock and whisk to incorporate. This is important. You can’t just throw powdered cornstarch into a dish without dissolving it first or you will be chewing on lumps of cornstarch later. After it is dissolved, pour the contents in to the pan and stir. Brng this up to a boil to allow it to thicken and then add the rest of the stock.
Otherwise simply add the stock to the pan and bring to a boil just long enough to allow it to start to thicken then lower the heat back to medium-low. Add as much hot sauce as you can handle or desire.
Scallions - Chop a 3-4 scallions on a bias (what isn’t biased these days) and set aside. White parts or green parts? Both. I have friends from all over the globe and some say to only use the white part while others only use the green. I have no patience for such culinary dogma, I use both. If you are a purist and only want to use one part, throw the other part in your freezer stock bag. These will be your garnish.
After the Étouffée has cooked for 10 min or so, add the shrimp to the pot and put the lid on. Shrimp cook very quickly and toughen quickly after that. I am not suggesting that you eat raw shrimp but I also don’t suggest you eat overcooked shrimp. Sometimes you gotta live on the edge if you want things to be delicious.
Uncover and stir, flipping the shrimp over after 2 min and replace the lid, cooking for another 3 min or so, then turn off the heat.
Plate up a nice mound of grits, making a well in the center, and fill it with a healthy amount of the shrimp Étouffée. Sprinkle some chopped scallions over the top and serve.
If you find yourself with leftover Étouffée sauce because you “fished out” all the shrimp and served them, don’t dismay. You have two options; save the sauce and cook more shrimp in it tomorrow or, use the sauce in the morning to make Shotgun Shakshuka! (Recipe in next months newsletter)