Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s Shrimp Étouffée

Photography by Paul Strabbing

Photography by Paul Strabbing

Fat Tuesday, or better known to me as Shrove Tuesday, is coming up in a few weeks.  Throughout my childhood, we would have pancakes without fail. I’d come home from school and the whole evening was dedicated to making and eating pancakes. It was less an evening meal and more a democratically organised shift of making and eating as many as we could fulfill before fatigue set in.  Our pancakes were like a french crepe, with sugar and lemon juice, sometimes brandy but always doused with much hilarity in the kitchen whilst attempting to flip them in some kind of hack chef like manoeuvre.   It is a lasting and favourite memory of mine.

But, for this year I think a fine Fat Tuesday dish would be Chef Zimmerman’s Shrimp Étouffée. It feels decadent, takes a little time and a lot of love to make and will reward you with skills you can apply to many other dishes.

Chef first made this when he was 15 years old, working from his inspiration Paul Prudhomme’s recipe.  The level of cayenne proved to be too much for him and his mother so he scaled that back but overall he remembers it turned out great.  I thought the spice level perfect now and you should know I’m not a lover of heavy heat spice so I’m very grateful to Chef and Mama Zimmerman for adjusting this.

Maybe to my shame, I had never taken a roux that far in browning but I gave in to trust the process and it became rather meditative, stirring and nurturing the magical paste that ultimately makes this dish at once bold and comforting. I also really enjoyed shaking the pan back and forth to emulsify the sauce. As it transformed in front of my eyes I felt less like a hack and rather more accomplished, a wholly satisfying result.

I absolutely agree that when buying the shrimp you need to get them with heads on. This will mean you need to go to a proper fishmonger.  Do it, you need someone like this in your life not just for heads on prawns but because they will have knowledge you don’t have and skills you don’t have and recipes to give and tales to tell. Not only will you acquire a relationship with shrimp, you will gain a friend in your fishmonger.

We took the final image to a messy point with the feeling that this indulgent, delicious meal deserved a little hedonism, some nod to the bacchanalia that Fat Tuesday can be.  I also took great pleasure in staining a perfect white tablecloth, an exercise in letting go that Bacchus would be proud of.

Shrimp Etouffee

Serves 4

Seasoning mix:

1 tsp salt

½ tsp cayenne

½ tsp white pepper

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp dry basil

¼ tsp dry thyme

combine and set aside.

¼ cup chopped onions

¼ cup chopped celery

¼ cup chopped green bell peppers

3.5 tbsp vegetable oil

12 tbsp a.p. flour

2 cups shrimp stock (see below)

1 stick butter

1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp (shells reserved)

½ cup finely chopped green onions

3 tbsp minced parsley

4 cups cooked rice

In a large cast iron pot heat the oil until nearly smoking and then add the flour.  Stir until smooth and then continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the roux is a deep red-brown..3-5 minutes at least.  Remove from the heat and add the onions, celery, green peppers and 2 tsp of the seasoning mix.  Continue stirring until the mixture has cooled down.

Heat 1.5 cups of the shrimp stock in a large sauce pot.  Gradually whisk in the roux/vegetable mixture.  Cook at a simmer until the mixture has thickened some and any raw flour taste is gone.  Remove from the heat and keep warm.

In a sauté pan melt half the butter.  Add the shrimp to the melted butter along with the green onions.  Saute until the shrimp are about half cooked.  Then add the other half of the butter, the sauce mixture, the remaining seasoning mixture and the remaining stock.  Shake the pan back and forth to emulsify the sauce and finish cooking the shrimp.  Add the chopped parsley and a bit of salt if needed and serve with basic cooked white rice.   (In the event the sauce breaks…add a tab or two of water/stock and shake the pan to bring the whole thing back together.)

FOR THE SHRIMP STOCK:

It is a good idea to buy the shrimp with the shells on…shells and heads are even better.  You need 1 pound AFTER peeling so account for that when you buy the shrimp.  The easiest way to make the stock is to sauté the shells (and heads if you have them) in a tiny bit of oil until they turn bright pink and then cover them with low sodium chicken broth.  Use about one cup more broth than you need for the recipe so you can account for evaporation as the stock simmers.  Cook the stock for 20 minutes or so and strain out the shrimp shells. 

Johanna Lowe