Do you believe in love at first bite?
I can recall the exact moment when I fell in love with this dish. That’s because it was the same moment that I fell in love with the city and culture of New Orleans.
It was June, 1987. My girlfriend at the time and I had just made the long drive from Chicago to New Orleans for a week-long vacation. After getting settled in our hotel, we wandered the French Quarter for the first time.
I had never been to Europe (still haven’t, in fact), so the narrow, European-style streets filled with colorfully painted buildings with elaborate wrought-iron balconies billowing with the summer’s first flowers was like something out of a dream.
Hungry from our trip, we ended up at the Cafe Royale, where we were seated on the second-floor balcony overlooking the carnival-like atmosphere on Royale Street below us.
Even though I had never eaten crawfish before, I ordered the crawfish etouffee because it was the house specialty and because it just felt right. I was rewarded for my adventurousness with a bowl of one of the most amazing things I had ever eaten. Dark brown, slightly nutty and creamy, sweet deliciousness.
I distinctly remember taking my first bite of that wonderful stew, looking out over the Vieux Carre and thinking, “I love this. All of it.” It was one of those moments of perfect happiness that the late Spalding Gray used to talk about in his monologues.
This particular recipe doesn’t come close to approximating that first intoxicating bowl of crawfish etouffee. In fact, I substituted shrimp because the only crawfish I could find were whole, pre-cooked ones and that wouldn’t work. Chopped small, the shrimp were a good substitute and the flavor of this etouffee was close enough to transport me back to that moment in time.
This recipe also features another New Orleans tradition, Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, also known as simply “Tony’s”. In fact, I adapted this recipe from one on their website. I’ve mentioned Tony’s in the past because it is a good, versatile seasoning for everything from soups to meats to seafood or even barbeque.
4 TBS Unsalted butter
1 lb Raw crawfish tails (or shrimp)
3 TBS Tony’s
1 White onion, medium dice
1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice
1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
1 tsp Corn starch
1 cup Water
1 Green Onion, sliced
Brown rice, cooked
1. Melt butter in sauce pan. Meanwhile, toss the crawfish with the Tony’s then saute in the butter for 3 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. In the same pot, add the onions, peppers and garlic and saute 10 minutes. Return the crawfish to the pot.
3. Dissolve the corn starch into the water then pour into the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmmer, then cook gently for 20 minutes. Season with black pepper — you won’t need any more salt due to Tony’s being pretty salty — and serve over brown rice, garnished with scallions.
I served my etouffee with jalapeno cornbread, changing the recipe slightly by substituting whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. It had very little impact on the flavor but added more nutritional value.
Has a dish you’ve eaten ever made you fall in love with a particular city? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!