Maria and I love to eat at home and sometimes we’ll cook something that is reserved for special occasions. There are specific basics that I adhere to when cooking because outside of the science in baking, exact measurements are not necessary. Knowing how foods taste raw vs. cooked and knowing what is good when combined is all that is really necessary. There are some times when the type of cooking vessel matters, but not usually. If you are new to cooking, do follow recipes. With knowledge and experience comes wonderful flavor substitutions. This article is about a style of Etouffee I love making.

An etouffee comes from Cajun and Creole backgrounds. It is thick like a stew, and it is usually served with rice. It employs many of the techniques of Cajun cooking, as it is in Gumbo and Jambalaya. The etouffee I make is a variation of the shellfish variety, but without the spicy heat that is typical of this hearty meal. The key to the flavor is a variety of the French Mirepoix known as the Trinity (or holy trinity). The French use mirepoix along with the bones from meat to make stock. Mirepoix is also used when roasting meat. The combination of two parts onion, one part celery and one part carrot, when cooked brings on a flavor profile that has made French cooking famous. The Cajun trinity replaces carrots with green bell peppers.

Another French technique, this time for thickening is called a Roux. Why so many French techniques? When the French were settling in early Canada, some of them settled in an area called Acadia. Acadia was distinctively not Quebec. During the French and Indian War, the British deported the Acadians and a sizable group of them settled in Louisiana where the name Acadian was simplified to Cajun. With them came the French techniques and along with the new land came new techniques. Peppers replaced carrots. Animal fats and oils replaced butter. And so on. The French roux combines flour and butter. This combination of starch and fat will thicken liquids. Cajuns replaced butter with other fats. Today, many Cajun recipes have brought back the French methods, but the trinity remains a staple of Cajun cooking.

For the etouffee I make, the traditional roux technique will not be used. A roux is usually done first. Fat and flour are combined in a pot and the combination is heated, either just to get the floury-flavor out or to vary the darkness of the roux. It doesn’t matter when the flour is added as long as there is enough fat in the liquid to thicken it. I’ll avoid Cayenne Pepper, a spicy regular and add Salvadoran Chorizo (a milder version of the paprika-based Mexican sausage). The main seafood of choice for this will be shrimp.

I prepare four cups of onion, finely chopped with two cups of celery and two cups of green peppers, also finely chopped. They are placed in a big cooking pot with a stick and a half of butter. I like sweet onions but use what you like; the cooked onion shows little difference versus raw. Cook until the onions look a little glassy, along with salt and pepper (spice to taste). Add two teaspoons of garlic, minced or chopped. Add the chorizo, chopped (I put in a typical package from the supermarket). Browning the meat separately isn’t necessary – it will brown in the pot. Have one pound of medium shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined ready to toss in. Shrimp doesn’t take long to cook, so as soon as they start turning color, move to the next step.

The vegetables from the trinity will release water, and the amount may vary so prepare to add enough water to look like maybe two cups and mix two tablespoons of flour with the water. Make sure to remove the lumps. Add the water/flour mixture to the pot and turn the heat down low. Mix occasionally until the etouffee has a thickened texture, much like a stew. Add some chopped green onions and turn off the heat. The characteristics of this dish is similar to many potted meals – the flavors are better the next day. I’ll make it a day in advance.

I got the original recipe from a book by Emeril Lagasse and Marcelle Bienvenu called, “Louisiana Real & Rustic.” The substitutions were done the first time I made it. The flavor is unexplainable. I’d pay a lot in a restaurant to eat this. Serve it with white rice underneath. The ingredients aren’t cheap, so this is not a dish we make often. Spicy heat is a part of my regular diet but Maria can’t take it, hence the substitutions. We’ve served it with dinner guests, all with raving reviews, but I prefer to make it for Maria and I.

This is one of many meals we cook and probably the most elaborate. In the future I’ll share the spice combinations I like and some tasty variations to inexpensive bachelor foods. It’s hard to find a restaurant we like because the food we cook at home tastes better. It is best to get Chinese cuisine from a restaurant and as we age, we get lazier. It’ll be a while before we stop cooking, so my Julia Child books won’t be collecting dust. Maria’s love of the Food Network won’t go to waste either.

Try this recipe.