Prawn Étouffée


Étouffée made with crawfish or shrimp (prawns are the closest thing in the UK) is a very popular dish from Louisiana. The word étouffée comes from the French étouffer, which means to smother or suffocate – the crawfish (or prawns in this case) are quite literally cooked by smothering them in a sauce. It is thought that this method dates back to the 1920s, but wasn’t popularised until it was “discovered” at Aline Champagne’s Rendezvous Restaurant (as crawfish court bouillon) in Breaux Bridge during the 1940s or 50s. Breaux Bridge is said to be the crawfish capital of the world and holds an annual festival. Étouffée is normally made with shellfish (including crab) and served with rice.

As with many Louisiana recipes, the sauce for étouffée starts with a roux, usually followed by a onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. There are two types of cooking in Louisiana – Creole (from the original French and Spanish colonists in New Orleans), containing tomatoes and Cajun (from the Cajun people of South Louisiana who were originally French colonists of Canada, expelled by the British), without tomatoes. Both Cajun and Creole styles of cooking use a trinity of celery, onions and sweet peppers – when garlic is used, it becomes a  holy trinity. It seems to me that a trinity made with sweet peppers comes from Spanish cuisine, because a French mirepoix normally contains carrots instead.

raw prawns

One can buy good shrimp or fish stock, for this type of recipe, but in my opinion, if you are buying raw prawns, why not use their heads and shells for something completely home made.

Shrimp Stock recipe:

the heads and shells from 2.2lbs (1Kg) prawns (or shrimp)
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
juice of a lemon
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs thyme
a squirt anchovy paste
a few black peppercorns
salt (to taste)
2 pints of water

peeled prawns

Keep the peeled prawns in the fridge while making the stock.

Twist the heads off the bodies, pull out the black vein that runs down the spine (it’s easy, most of the time, to grab when the head comes off) and peel off the shells.

prawn shells

Put all the stock ingredients into a cast iron casserole, except the salt, which I add at the end.

cooked stock

Bring to a simmer, scoop off any foam, put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 160ºC for 45 minutes.

prawn stock

Adjust the seasoning, allow to cool and strain into a jug.

Etouffée recipe (serves 4):

2.2lbs (1Kg) prawns (peeled)
1/4lb (113g) butter (cubed)
1/4lb (113g) plain flour (sieved)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 green bell pepper (chopped)
5 medium tomatoes (grated)
2 spring onions (finely chopped)
a handful fresh parsley (finely chopped)
5 heaped teaspoons Cajun seasoning: 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon mustard powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, a pinch of fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera (picante) – all mixed together
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoon tomato purée
1 pint shrimp stock
Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (to taste if you think it needs it)
the juice of half a lemon
cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 cup long grain rice per person


Melt 1/4 lb butter in a cast iron pan.


Make a roux with an equal amount of sieved plain flour. This should be cooked on a hot flame, stirring constantly or it will burn. If it burns you’ll need to throw it away and start again! This is a lighter roux than I usually make for gumbo and it took about 15 minutes. If you cook the roux too dark, the flour looses it’s ability to thicken when the stock is added. A gumbo is generally soupier than étouffée.

holy trinity

Take the pan off the heat, to stop the roux browning further and stir in the holy trinity.


Turn the heat back on low and grate in the tomatoes – cut them in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin.


Sprinkle on some parsley, squirt in the tomato purée and add the bay leaves.


Pour on the prawn stock.

cajun seasoning

Add 5 heaped teaspoons Cajun seasoning, bring the sauce to a simmer, put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 140º C for an hour.

prawns with spring onions

Taste and add seasoning or Worcestershire sauce (if you think it needs it). For more heat, splash on some Tabasco Sauce. Cook the rice and while it rests, smother the peeled prawns in the étouffée sauce, along with chopped spring onions and a little more parsley – for no longer than 5 minutes!

prawn étouffée

Squeeze on the juice of half a lemon and serve immediately, with rice, a little more parsley and spring onion. You might want a Dixie beer to go with this, though my recommendation is a glass of Lobster & Shrimp Muscadet-Sevre et Maine.

About Mad Dog
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12 Responses to Prawn Étouffée

  1. Eha says:

    How delightful to wander across the Pond and think back on holy trinity and Creole cooking I have not thought of it for a while and all the fabulous meals had and music heard and wanderings done way back in New Orleans . . . the one place in the world breakfast made me get out of bed early . . . ! Have made this way back . . . so your recipe is most welcome . . . no problems making my own stock either : always do ! And thanks for the easy Cajun spice recipe . . . do not use it often enough to keep a bottle . . . will be made . . . soonest . . .

  2. jmcheney says:

    Oh, Mad! I am way overdue for a visit to the Old Gumbo Shop in NOLA. I sure hope it’s still there. Your version looks so “scrummy” as Mary Berry always says.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Judith – I hope the restaurant’s still there too! Classic bars and dining establishments have so much more character than modern places.

  3. Karen says:

    Now that looks like a proper bowl of étouffée…full of flavor and oh, so good.

  4. Ron says:

    Now, coming from the bayou country of far East Texas I’ve made and eaten my share of Shrimp Etouffee. As a matter of fact, the best I ever had was eaten at Mulates in Beaux Bridge, but alas the Mulates there is now gone. Dixie beer? I’ll pass, never cared for the stuff as it gave me a headache. But, if you’re there by all means give it a go.
    Let’s talk about your Shrimp Etouffee Mad Dog. How is it that a chef from the UK can absolutely nail a cajun recipe? You got it right on all counts. Now, your stock, that’s something a bit different for me. Yes, I always boil the heads and shells but I’ve never used anchovy paste but will the next time I make shrimp stock. Great job!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Ron – that’s quite a compliment! I’m not sure I’d be any good at Louisiana recipes if I hadn’t gone and pestered friends and chefs in New Orleans and Georgia, back in the 90s. You have to make these dishes at home here – there are very few authentic restaurants in the UK and those that do exist charge a fortune just for a Po’ boy!

  5. Ron says:

    Oh, man! New Orleans Po’boys! Oyster is my favorite and Acme Oyster bar is my favorite place to eat them. I’ve tried to make the classic N’orleans Po’boy baguettes, but I’ve never got it like it is there…

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