Shrimp and crawfish etouffee’, notes on Socratic method of cooking

I received a copy of “The Making of a Chef” as a gift recently, and I’ve been slowly picking my way through it.  There was a passage where Ruhlman describes a challenge put forth to him by one of his CIA professors:  the notion of Socratic cooking.  Not to get too deep into this (after all, this isn’t a philosophy blog…or is it?) but if you can think about what you’re going to make in this way, it will set you free.  The premise is this:  for any given thing we decide we want to make, we should ask ourselves a seemingly simple question.  At its most basic, what is it?  When we reproduce recipes note for note, we’re just looking at that interpretation through someone else’s mind’s eye.  He/she either understood the rules and made something within that framework or just reproduced something that was passed down.  Too deep?  Maybe.  But, it’s a great way to keep your cookbooks cleaner because you won’t have to keep them open next to the stove following the minutiae.

Take etouffee’.  At its most basic, it’s a thick roux-based shellfish stew served over rice.  That’s it.  If you know how to make a roux, make stock and thicken it, cook rice, and cook shellfish, then you can whip up an etoufee’ in a snap.  Pour a bunch of it over the rice and smother it (etouffee:  drowned), garnish and done.
Options for etouffee’:  too numerous to count.  Go with a light (blonde) roux and you’ll get greater thickening.  Go dark and you get nice color, but you’ll need something else for thickening.  Add tomatoes or don’t.  Incorporate cream if you’d like, or leave it out entirely.  All of these options are just a few reasons why there are so many available recipes out there.
Here’s a version of shellfish etoufee’ that I made this weekend to illustrate the point. This was made in a “reconstructive” fashion which involves making a stock, and converting it into a type of veloute’ (roux thickened seafood stock), and then poaching the meat at the end.

Shrimp/crawfish etoufee’

~ 1 cup each of AP flour and grapeseed oil . I put just enough to coat the bottom of a 5 quart pot, looking for the consistency of heavy cream, maybe even a tad thicker.
Cook over medium heat until it’s a good dark gold color.

Shellfish stock

I don’t think you’ll find this in the grocery store.  It doesn’t matter because you can make your own in about the time that it takes most of us to the store, shop, come home, and heat it up.
In a 3 quart sauce pan, add two large handfulls of shrimp shells. Save the shrimp for the stew. (Really? Thank you Captain Obvious…)

From Drop Box

Add aromatics as you wish.  Holy trinity (onion, green bell pepper and celery) works well, or you can sub mire poix (onion, carrot, and celery).  You’re adding them to the master stew, so don’t go overboard here.
Throw some garlic and pepper in, maybe a bay leaf or two.
Spike it with some fish or oyster sauce.  If you have a fish carcass, you can use that too.
Bring to boil, reduce to simmer (BTBRTS) and give it an hour or so.


1 cup onion fine dice
1/2 cup carrot fine dice
1/2 cup celery fine dice
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp white pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
Few rounds of ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry cooking sherry

**I added carrot to this stew instead of the green bell pepper.  The reasons are twofold:  our guests had a food issue with green bell pepper, and I wanted the color and sweetness of the carrots.

From Drop Box

Add the veggies to the roux, and cook on medium-low until you can smell them.

From Drop Box

Add the stock, BTBRTS and let it go about an hour.

From Drop Box

I blended it in the VitaMix to get it smooth and added a couple of tablespoons of sour cream.  Balanced the salinity, and added just enough lemon juice to give it an edge.

From Drop Box

Unfortunately, the only crawfish I could get were the precooked Chinese kind, but I used them anyway.  Added the shrimp with it on a simmer and as soon as they were pink, it was done.

From Drop Box

Served over rice garnished with cilantro (was out of parsley). Tabasco sauce on the side (I was out of Crystal!).

From Drop Box

Anyone else with some experience making this dish? Please comment!


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