When I received my third Yankee Challenge I was a wee bit nervous because I had no clue what I was being asked to cook: Shrimp Etouffee with a side of Beignets?? Hmmm, sounds a bit French and not at all Southern. Also a bit scary. Thankfully, one of my bestest friends, Katie, is a born and raised Louisiana girl. The only time I have ever had real home cooked “NOLA” food was when Miss Katie asked her Grandma to send us a huge batch of Jambalaya. It was incredibly delicious and to this day I occasionally dream about a ginormous bowl of Jambalaya drizzled in hot sauce appearing magically before my eyes. Katie was my exchange program roommate from LSU during my first year at the University of Tennessee, who happily explained both of these Cajun/Creole dishes to me.
Shrimp Etouffee and Beignets seemed like nothing to be afraid of. The word Etouffee (Ay-two-FAY) comes from the French word (I was right about its origin) étouffer, which means to smother. The word Etouffee is also defined as a spicy Cajun stew made with seafood, vegetables, and a dark roux. I was actually quite excited to make the Shrimp dish, for it sounded like something my sensitive tummy could handle. A Beignet (ben-YAY) is a Southern Louisiana square donut with no hole, usually covered in powdered sugar. Sadly, donuts are fried and my stomach never welcomes anything of the fried family into its home with open arms. Luckily, our neighbors were excited for some Sunday night donuts and my husband’s coworkers are great guinea pigs for new breakfast dishes.
My only rule for this challenge was that I had to use Real American Shrimp. Living very close to the mid-Atlantic coast, I had no trouble locating and purchasing a pound of fresh wild shrimps. I did have trouble, however, removing the shrimps’ tails, shells, little legs, and veins. I am a bit of a de-shelling/de-veining pro when it comes to shrimp, the problem lies in the fact that it makes me gag. After they were rinsed and seasoned with a Cajun spice blend I purchased at the grocery store, I began chopping: green pepper, celery, onion, garlic, tomatoes –plus green onions and a bunch of fresh Italian parsley.
Into my cast iron skillet went an obscene amount of butter and the green peppers, celery, and onion. My kitchen immediately started smelling like Thanksgiving (for this is the base of my Mom’s stuffing) and I did a little happy dance until the onions became translucent. Now it was time for the roux – another task I’ve had practice with. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies, stir with a wooden spoon, add a bit of chicken broth, and continue to stir until a thick dark paste has been created. Slowing pour in the rest of the chicken broth and season with more Cajun blend, a dash of Creole seasoning, salt, and pepper. Toss in the minced fresh garlic and diced tomatoes. Simmer for a while (about 15-20 minutes). The tomatoes released a lot of liquid and before I knew it I had a thick yummy stew. I added my green onion, parsley, and shrimps and cooked it over low heat until my crustaceans were plump and pink. I served my Shrimp Etouffee over a steaming pile of white rice and topped it with hot sauce.
While I enjoyed a little bowl of my first attempt at Cajun/Creole cuisine, my husband gobbled up two heaping plates. He said my Shrimp Etouffee tasted like gumbo he had in NOLA a few years back. He also requested that the next time I make Shrimp Etouffee, I toss in some andouille sausage. The only reason I had not included andouille sausage in my first batch is because I wanted to be able to enjoy my dish in its entirety – fishing for red meat was not on my agenda.
Next up – BEIGNETS! I started making the dough for my Louisiana hole-less donuts before I even stripped my shrimp. My recipe came from a NOLA Cuisine website and was pretty easy to follow considering I did not have a stand mixer. I made my beignets by hand. Yeast + warm water + sugar = bubbly brown stuff. Whisk in a beaten egg, evaporated milk, salt, and a little bit of flour. Add the shortening and rest of the required flour. Use your hands when the mixture starts to resemble dough, adding more flour if it is sticking to your hands. I kneaded the dough while it was still in my large mixing bowl until it was smooth. I covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and left it until it had doubled in size – about one hour later. Then I plopped the dough on my floured counter, punched it down, and rolled it out until it was about ½” thick. Using a sharp knife, I cut rectangles out of the dough and placed them on a floured baking sheet. Then the dough had to rise AGAIN.
About 45 minutes later, I had my frying (canola) oil heated, a plate lined with paper towels, and a paper bag filled with confectionary sugar lined up along my countertop. I fried the donut until it was brown on both sides, placed it on the plate to drain, and my husband shook it around in the sugar bag once it was cool to the touch. We both sampled my work and were pleased with the sugary crisp outside and steaming soft inside of the hole-less donut. I divided the Beignets up into sugary brown paper bags and sent them to work with my husband. No more than an hour after he had left for work, my email inbox was filled with compliments and requests for more Beignets from his coworkers. I think that means they were a success.– Caitlin “The Yankee”