Shrimp etouffee is a traditional Cajun dish composed of shrimp over rice with other ingredients added. This dish is popular in the region around New Orleans in Louisiana, and in the greater Bayou region of that state. Shrimp etouffee is similar to another popular dish in the region, which is called gumbo, and is similar to a thick seafood soup.
The word etouffee comes from French, and is translated in English as “smothered” or “suffocated.” It’s somewhat unclear how this word relates to the various ingredients of the dish, but it’s clear that the dish as it is traditionally made is a thick, hearty meal. In terms of its ingredients and general composition, shrimp etouffee is in many ways not unlike other ethnic entrees, for example, the Arabic kabsa or the Spanish paella, both of which involve rice simmered in a thick sauce.
In addition to shrimp and rice, another major element of the dish is often referred to as a roux. A roux is a mix of flour and fat that results in a savory thickening agent with protein and caloric value. In other versions of shrimp etouffee, the roux might be substituted with cooked onions and a different kind of sauce. Tomato based sauces are now used in some versions of shrimp or crayfish etouffee, but some cooks familiar with the traditional dish do not find them to be very authentic.
Aside from the above, vegetables like green peppers and celery are often added to the dish. Pepper and salt are familiar spices for this classic Cajun food. Garlic, which is a superfood with many health qualities, is also a frequent addition.
The preparation of shrimp etouffee involves cooking elements for different amounts of time, slowly adding more ingredients into the mix as the dish cooks. Cooks generally first melt butter in a pan, adding vegetables and spices and allowing them to cook and break down. The shrimp is added last to avoid overcooking it, as it’s easy to overcook shrimp and fail to provide the optimal texture for consumption.
Some cooks who make shrimp etouffee and similar dishes will devein the shrimp in order to make it more appealing to a culinary audience. While many agree that the small digestive tracts in shrimp are sterilized by the heat of cooking, some of the chefs most attentive to the needs of their audiences will devein the shrimp for aesthetic purposes. This is particularly important for larger varieties of shrimp.