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The Way to Étouffée

The Way to Étouffée
Written by Emily Storrow | Photos by Kreich-Higdon Photography

A Louisville chef with a taste for Louisiana cooking shares his tips

With crawfish season at its peak, now is the time for étouffée. Luxurious in its layers of flavor, it may read as complex, but étouffée is easy enough for a weeknight supper. And because there’s no zealot like a convert, we asked Creole devotee Paul Skulas of Louisville’s Couvillion to fill us in on the wisdom he’s accrued from the masters.

The California-born chef didn’t grow up eating étouffée. With a father in the army, his childhood was spent moving around the country. He fell for the creamy skillet dish studded with crawfish—along with a host of other Creole and Cajun dishes—while working under the New Orleans-born chef John Currence at Oxford, Mississippi’s City Grocery. With the Crescent City just a five-hour drive away, he made his way there every chance he could. And between visits, he supplemented his education by reading titles like Donald Link’s Real Cajun cover to cover. After moving to Louisville in 2012 to be closer to family, he found himself craving a taste of real Louisiana cooking. Enter Couvillion, named for a fish stew akin to court bouillon, where he serves up what he’s dubbed Kentucky Cajun: soup beans with country ham, boudin meatloaf atop local Weisenberg Mill grits.

Like so many hallmark Creole and Cajun recipes, étouffée starts with a roux. Not a dark roux, the chocolate-hued point of pride that demands a half-hour or more in a skillet, but a blond one. Because this roux is quick—it’ll cook up in just a few minutes—there’s no need for high-smoke-point oils; butter is the fat of choice. Shoot for the consistency of wet sand, Skulas says. “As you drag your spoon across the roux, it should hold its form for a little bit, but not be a thick blob.” Next comes the onion and garlic, then another key component: high-quality shrimp or seafood stock—homemade if you’ve got it. Ingredients aside, the magic of étouffée really happens when it’s left to its own devices. A low simmer for thirty to forty minutes is a green light for flavor melding. Just before serving, drop the crawfish and a splash of cream.

Crawfish Étouffée

To streamline the recipe at home, Skulas skips the full trinity in favor of just onion. But don’t let that stop you from dicing up a bell pepper and a couple celery stalks too.