“The key to good étouffée,” says Barry Ancelet’s mother, Maude, “is letting the butter and crawfish have their say.” Hand-lettered signs in front of roadside shacks in Cajun country spell it “A-2-FAY” and it means suffocated or smothered. (When Creoles smother crawfish, they do it in a white or blond roux and call it “écrevisses gratinées.”) Cajuns smother theirs in a chocolate-black roux to thicken the courtbouillon (pronounced Cajun-style “coo-byong”), smoothed out with quantities of butter. Smothering doesn’t mean mushing. In a good étouffée, the crawfish flesh will be sweetly firm in its pools of black butter. For the real thing, you need crawfish fat. But even without it, and even without crawfish, you can substitute shrimp and still have a good étouffée. If you can get whole shrimp, use the shrimp fat in the heads.
Make a roux of 1 stick butter and flour by melting butter in a heavy skillet, stirring in the flour to cook over low heat, and stirring constantly until the flour is dark brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
Add the chopped vegetables and the seasonings, and cook until the vegetables are slightly softened. Gradually stir in the hot stock and let simmer 15 minutes to thicken.
Add the crawfish, green onions, remaining stick of butter, and brandy and bring gently to the simmer. Cover tightly, remove pan from heat, and let sit 15 minutes. Unless the crawfish are unusually large, the heat of the sauce will cook them through. If they are not firm or if you have made the dish in advance, reheat very gently and serve in heated soup bowls or deep plates around a mound of rice.
© 1986 Betty Fussell. All rights reserved.