Eric Akis: Speckled shrimp from British Columbia to Louisiana
Like a recipe I made a few weeks ago for Cajun Fish Fry, this week’s dish is also inspired by a trip I took to Louisiana several years ago.
On this trip, I visited a farm that grew rice near a town called Crowley, located in Acadia Parish, a part of the state also known as “Cajun Country”. Like other farms that grow rice in this region, they also sold crayfish, which they raised and trapped in the same water-soaked fields in which they grew their rice.
One of the farmers I met said that when he ate rice he always had to have “sauce” with it. But what he meant by sauce is a sauce used in dishes such as smothered langoustine.
Etouffée is a French word which literally means “suffocated”. In culinary terms, it refers to a sauce thickened with a roux, a mixture of fat and flour, which is cooked until richly colored. In this roux is an important blend in Louisiana cuisine called “the Holy Trinity”, a diced mixture of celery, onion and bell pepper. Depending on the recipe, fresh or canned tomatoes, broth and seasonings are also added to the sauce that simmers for a while.
To make a crayfish stew, you then add and cook the peeled crayfish tails in the sauce. In Louisiana, we also see smothered shrimp served, where peeled shrimp replace crayfish.
That in turn brings me to today’s recipe, which uses British Columbia spotted shrimp instead of crayfish. Spotted shrimp are a bit like crayfish, in that the tail meat is rich, sweet, and succulent. In other words, perfect for smothered.
It’s best to buy fresh shrimp tails the day you cook them. You’re more likely to find them for sale at stand-alone seafood stores and, sometimes, some supermarkets. If you bought whole spotted shrimp, you can remove their heads by quickly turning them and pulling them away from the tail. Do this shortly after bringing them home and refrigerate the tails until ready to cook.
Spot the smothered shrimp for two
British Columbia Speckled Shrimp are served Louisiana style, in a nicely spicy sauce anchored with “Holy Trinity”, onions, bell pepper and celery. Serve the shrimp with steamed rice.
Preparation time: 35 minutes
Cooking time: about 50 minutes
Makes: two portions
14 to 16 fresh shrimp tails (see Eric’s options)
1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups chicken or fish broth, and more if needed
1 1/2 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (see note 1)
1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon of Cajun spices, or to taste (see note 2)
3/4 cup vine tomatoes, ripe, diced
• salt to taste
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced green onion
To peel each shrimp, hold the tip of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab its swimmers, small legs under the shell. Now carefully remove the shell, leaving the lower part of the tail intact. (Peeling the shrimp is a bit finicky, so take your time.) Place the peeled shrimp on a plate and refrigerate until needed; reserve the seashells.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the reserved shrimp shells and cook and stir until bright red / pink and almost crisp, about three minutes. Pour in the broth and bring to a gentle boil (the little bubbles should just break on the surface).
Lower the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer the shells for 20 minutes, then strain this shrimp flavored broth into a glass measuring cup. You should have 3/4 cup, but if you don’t add a little more chicken (or fish) broth until you do.
Melt the butter in a skillet of about 10 inches over medium heat. Incorporate the flour, creating a roux. Stir and cook the roux until it is nut-brown, about two to three minutes. Stir in onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and Cajun spices. Cook, stirring often, three to four minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Stir in the shrimp flavored broth, then add the tomatoes.
Gently simmer this smothered sauce, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Add a little more broth to the sauce if you find it too thick. Taste the sauce and season with salt, if necessary.
Add the shrimp and parsley to the sauce and cook for 2 minutes. Flip each shrimp and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until cooked through. Divide the shrimp stew on shallow serving dishes, sprinkle with green onion and enjoy.
Note 1: Small dicing in this recipe means cutting into 1/8 to 1/4 inch cubes. When it comes to tomatoes, dicing means cutting into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes.
Note 2: 1 teaspoon of Cajun spices will give the stew a slightly spicy touch. But you can add more or less according to your taste. Cajun spices are sold in the bottled spice / herbs aisle of most supermarkets. If you want to make your own Cajun spice, in a small pot, combine 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Use what you need for the recipe and save the rest for another time.
Eric’s options: Frozen, thawed, pat-dried spotted shrimp tails could of course also be used in this recipe. If on-site shrimp aren’t available where you shop, other raw peeled shrimp could be substituted. If these shrimp are large, you will only need 12.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section on Wednesdays and Sundays.