The season of lent begins the day after Mardi Gras which is called Ash Wednesday. It continues for about 7 weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the grave on Easter Sunday. The best reason to ever celebrate!
Since Cajuns are predominately Catholic lent was and still is faithfully observed where I grew up in Vermilion Parish. That place on earth spotted with marshland on its southern side just before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Traditionally during lent, meat is served only once out of the three daily meals except for Wednesday and Friday. On these days it is abstained from as an act of giving up certain luxuries in order to draw closer to God. As a teenager my mother remembers there were no dances or parties during this season. As a child I remember stressing out on trying to decide whether I was going to give up candy, gum or cokes for forty something days.
Thankfully fresh fish is readily available around the marshland. In place of our steak and rice and gravy Mama would fix fish or shell fish. One of my favorites is etouffee (pronounced a-2-fay) made with crawfish. Etouffee means to smother and smother those crawfish Mama did well. Her recipe calls for a buttery white sauce made with onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic with a kick of cayenne pepper. It’s super easy to make and oh-so tasty. The first time I prepared it for some Arkansas friends they said that it was not the same as what they had eaten in restaurants, but better. That was a high compliment to my Mama and her recipe. Here it is:
Crawfish or Shrimp Etouffee
2 sticks (1 cup) real butter
2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon chopped celery
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon chopped bell pepper
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 pounds fresh or frozen crawfish or shrimp (peeled and cleaned)
1 teaspoon salt
3/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more if you like
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan.
Add vegetables and cook on medium heat until onions are clear, about 15 minutes.
Add cornstarch, stir and let cook for 5 minutes stirring often.
Before you add the crawfish or shrimp, pass your hand through them removing any pieces of shell or black veins. Add the shellfish stirring into cornstarch and vegetable mixture.
Add salt and pepper stirring well then add a little water, about 1/4 cup at a time, until it is the consistency of a thick gravy. The amount of water added may vary each time you make this recipe depending on the crawfish or shrimp. Sometimes they have more water in them than other times.
Let simmer covered on medium to medium-low heat for 30 minutes stirring occasionally. You may need to add more water as it cooks, but remember only a little at a time. Now it is ready for you to smother your rice with it.
I hope you find etouffee easy enough to prepare for yourself. You can usually find the shellfish in your grocers’ freezer section. I recommend purchasing fish that is harvested as close to your home as possible if you can’t get them in your own back yard like we used to, but that’s another story for another time.
“I have never met a soul who has set out to satisfy the Lord and has not been satisfied himself.” Watchman Nee