As I've talked about before, Jeff is a big seafood fan, especially shrimp, so I've always got an eye out for recipes that sound good to both of us. When I came across this lighter take on Shrimp Étouffée, I made sure it went to the top of my seafood recipe pile for us to try out. I've never made (or eaten) Étouffée before, so I will not be able to compare it to the classic southern dish - having said that, if we ever go down south, I know one of the first dishes I will have to order!
I would love to have made a homemade shrimp stock for this, but I rarely remember to save their shells when I remove them for recipes. I now have a bag in the freezer for such an occasion though! Instead, we went along with what the recipe called for and heated up a mixture of chicken broth, thyme, basil and a bay leaf.
Before we began the vegetables, we started a roux which will thicken up the sauce in which the shrimp cooks. Simply made by melting butter and sprinkling in some flour, the two are cooked together long enough to remove any of the raw taste the flour has - for this recipe, you'll want to continue cooking the roux until it turns very brown. It may look a little stiff or lumpy at first, but as the heat does its work, it will smooth out as you whisk. Once it darkens, the broth mixture is whisked in a little at a time - you heat the broth first because you don't want to add a cold liquid to a roux as it will end up lumpy. However, you also don't want to add boiling hot liquid either - this is why it is warmed before you start the roux and set aside to cool slightly.
In just a little more bubbling melted butter, we softened chopped onions, celery and a red bell pepper - I find green bells a little too harsh, but if you like them, swap out one-half cup of the red bell with green. We tossed in a bit of tomato pasta for richness and let it cook for a minute to deepen it's flavor (though, I don't believe you would find any tomato in a true Étouffée). You'll notice that between the vegetables and tomato paste that there are caramelized bits stuck on the bottom of your pan. To steal those flavorful bits back, water is added which will help release those pieces. Cajun seasoning, garlic and cayenne are sprinkled in to add a little fire and season up the pot before the thickening broth mixture and Worcestershire sauce is stirred in. After a few minutes of simmering, we freshened up the flavors with green onions and parsley - the shrimp are also added and left to pink up.
While I'm sure this is traditionally served over white rice, we still wanted to add a bit of whole grain and decided to make a bed of brown rice instead - use your judgment as to which rice you think you would like the best. Very saucy with a just enough burn to quench our thirst for spicy dishes, serving it with the nutty rice helped keep the heat in check.