Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee is a “saucy two-step” recipe where the roux-based sauce is made up to 2 days in advance so that you can easily finish and deliver this decadent, delicious meal on a busy weeknight—like Mardi Gras!
In celebration of Mardi Gras this week, I made shrimp etouffee—a decadent, once-a-year treat. Roux-based sauces take time, though—particularly in the case of étouffée and gumbo, for which the roux is dark (and, for the latter, even darker). There’s just no getting around the 20–25 minutes of low-and-slow, constant whisking so that the butter and flour don’t burn, but do develop the rich, nutty flavor that’s critical to the etouffee flavor profile.
Given that, I realized that shrimp etouffee doesn’t exactly lend itself to busy weeknights, which is exactly when Mardi Gras falls.
I decided to make the sauce two nights before I planned to serve the meal, and Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee was born. I made the sauce on a lazy Sunday afternoon and finished the dish on Fat Tuesday.
What does “Creole-Style” mean?
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the differences between Cajun and Creole cuisine, which are often thought of as country cooking vs. city cooking, respectively. There are historic roots that explain why the two cuisines use the ingredients they do, but I’m not going to rehash it here. For the purposes of my version of this dish, the addition of canned, diced tomatoes places it firmly in the Creole column. Many sources also explain that Cajun cooks use oil, while Creole cooks use butter. Hot debates rage about these distinctions in discussion threads.
To be clear, I like BOTH cuisines—and, indeed, there is a lot of overlap between the two. This is the way I happen to like my etouffee, so “Creole-Style” it is.
Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee: day 1
Shrimp etouffee (correctly written “étouffée”; pronounced “ā-too-FAY”) literally means “smothered shrimp”. We’re going to make “the smother” first and cook the shrimp after rewarming the sauce and right before serving.
The roux is, without a doubt, the rate-limiting step for delivering a good etouffee. We’re shooting for a light peanut butter color (the roux will continue to cook and develop after we add the vegetables and sauté them for a few minutes).
I have a fantastic heavy-bottomed, non-stick skillet that I use for this dish (I’ll include my affiliate Sur La Table link below the recipe). As you’ll see in the video below, this pan is SO nonstick that a silicone spatula is sufficient to completely scrape the bottom and sides of the pan (however, most pans will require using a whisk).
I melt the butter over medium-low heat, incorporate the flour, and whisk continuously until a caramel/peanut butter color and nutty aroma develop. Check it out:
This video shows the roux near the end of the process, with the light peanut butter color I shoot for just before adding the vegetables. The color and flavor will continue to develop as the veggies sauté. (Note that I’m scraping all along the bottom of the skillet and around the sides.)
The “holy trinity”
Onion, celery, and bell pepper are the Louisiana version of classic mirepoix (which includes carrot rather than bell pepper). I like to cut the vegetables (especially the celery) into fairly fine dice because we won’t sauté them for very long: they may otherwise come out crunchy in the final sauce. After the roux reaches its target color, I add in the trinity along with some garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes (watching carefully to be sure that the roux doesn’t go too far).
Spices and simmering the sauce
Another difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine is that Cajun food tends to be spicier than Creole. This is one area where I blur the lines, because I prefer spicy food. For Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee, I’ve kept the spice fairly conservative (cayenne is an optional addition: you can leave it out if you’d prefer a milder sauce). You can always add more spice if it’s needed, but you can’t take it out.
I like to “bloom” the spices, so I add in black pepper, cayenne, and Cajun/Creole seasoning to the sauté for the last minute. Then I slowly mix in diced tomatoes with their juice and the stock (shrimp stock is ideal, but chicken stock will also work). At this point, I raise the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer.
After simmering for 25 minutes, I give the sauce a taste check: if it needs more spice, I make a preliminary adjustment (keeping in mind that the shrimp I add later will be seasoned with additional Cajun/Creole mix). The final step for day 1 is to cool the sauce and store it in the refrigerator.
Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee: day 2 (or 3, if you opt to wait 2 days)
After bringing the sauce back up to temperature, I assess whether the thickness is to my liking or not. It’s usually very, very close, but with that being said…
People are all over the map with their preference for the final consistency of etouffee. I’ve made it simple: if you like it thinner than what you get with my recipe, add a little more stock or some water until you reach the consistency you like. If it’s too thin for your preference—and I realize that this is likely heresy to Cajun and Creole chefs, but to each his own—mix a teaspoon of cornstarch with a teaspoon of cold water. Add it to the simmering sauce and it will thicken up after a few moments—that’s as thick as I’d suggest going with this particular sauce (see below: adding butter just before serving will add a tiny bit more thickness to the sauce).
If you can get your hands of fresh Gulf shrimp, then absolutely do that. I’m in Wisconsin, though, so I use whatever shrimp looks good that isn’t full of soapy-tasting preservative. Be sure to peel, devein, and clean the shrimp. Another bit of heresy I engage in for this recipe is that I season the shrimp and cook them separately in a skillet before adding them to the sauce. That’s my own flavor preference—you are more than welcome to simply cook the shrimp in the sauce.
I give the sauce a final taste check, adding more salt if necessary. Just before I serve the Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee, I like to add a small pat of cold butter to the sauce—just a tablespoon—to make the sauce glossy and thicken it slightly. Then I serve the etouffee over rice topped with a sprinkling of scallions and chopped parsley, with lemon wedges and hot sauce on the side.
All in all, this dish takes about an hour and a half, which isn’t horrible—but it’s usually a no-go for weeknights. The Saucy Two-Step strategy from the Flipped-Out Food Playbook makes it do-able. Not to mention that sauces almost always taste better 1–2 days after you make them. I hope that Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee will be a favorite with your family!
I’m linking my Make-Ahead Creole-Style Shrimp Etouffee Recipe up with these link parties:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share at Hijacked by Twins.
- #RecipeOfTheWeek hosted by A Mummy Too.
- #BrillBlogPosts, a link party with a variety of lifestyle reads hosted by Honest Mum.
In this work-ahead method, the time-consuming sauce-building steps are completed 1–2 days before you plan to eat the etouffee so that you can easily finish the meal on a busy weeknight.
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp (divided; see Recipe Note #1)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 cup onion, diced small
- 1/2 cup celery, diced small
- 1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced small
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne (optional: leave out if you're sensitive to spicy food)
- 1 tsp Cajun or Creole seasoning, plus 1/2 tsp more for seasoning the shrimp (optional) (see Recipe Note #2)
- 2 bay leaves
- 14 oz canned, diced tomatoes with their juice
- 1 cup shrimp stock (or use chicken stock)
- 1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, cleaned, and patted dry (I like the 31–40 count size)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil (or a light coating of cooking spray; see Recipe Note 3)
- chopped parsley
- sliced scallions
- lemon wedges
- Louisiana hot sauce (I like Crystal)
Place a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter. When the butter is completely melted and begins to foam, incorporate the flour, whisking constantly. Continue whisking, being careful to scrape the entire bottom and sides of the skillet to prevent burning, about 20 minutes, or until the roux develops a light peanut butter color and a nice, nutty smell.
Add the onions, celery, green bell pepper, and garlic. Sauté, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions begin to look translucent. Watch carefully to be sure that the roux does not burn during the sauté.
During the last minute of sautéeing the vegetables, add the cayenne (if using), salt, black pepper, Cajun/Creole seasoning, and bay leaves. Stir to combine.
Slowly add the diced tomatoes with juices and the stock, stirring vigorously to incorporate the liquid into the roux. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Taste the sauce: if it's too bland for your taste, mix in a bit more Cajun/Creole seasoning and/or salt. Remove sauce from heat and let cool for 10-15 minutes; refrigerate in an airtight container up to 2 days.
Reheat the sauce in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.
If you like, season the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 tsp of Cajun/Creole seasoning. Stir the shrimp into the sauce (or see Recipe Note 3); simmer until cooked through, about 3-6 minutes (check the cut side of the shrimp: the flesh should be opaque and slightly white rather than translucent, but not bright white.
Taste the sauce for seasoning, adding additional salt or Cajun/Creole seasoning as necessary (see Recipe Note 2). Remove the skillet from the heat. Add 1 tbsp of cold butter to the sauce, stirring to incorporate. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Serve the etouffee with the garnishes, condiments, and rice.
- The 1 tbsp of butter is used to finish the sauce, making it glossy and slightly thicker. It's very important that the butter is cold.
- I consider the spice level here to be fairly mild, but you can reduce it even more if you're sensitive to spicy food. You can always add more later. Use your favorite Cajun/Creole blend. I make the blend below with spices I have on-hand, then store the mix in an airtight container:
- 1 1/4 tbsp. paprika (not smoked)
- 1/2 tbsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tbsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tbsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tbsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tbsp. dried leaf oregano
- 3/4 tbsp. dried thyme
- You can also opt to cook the shrimp separately in a skillet coated with cooking spray or 1 tbsp of vegetable oil.
NOTE ABOUT CONSISTENCY: after reheating the sauce, if you find that it's too thick for your liking, add a little more stock or water. On the other hand, if you like it thicker, mix 1 tsp cornstarch with 1 tsp cold water and mix into the sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce back to a simmer. Keep in mind that adding the butter to finish the sauce will also have a thickening effect.
Related tools on Sur La Table (affiliate)
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