A Culinary Tradition: Cajun Crawfish Etouffee

Delicious plate of Crawfish Etouffee with rice

Perhaps one of the most recognized and loved dishes of Cajun cuisine is etouffee. Its rich flavors have delighted the taste buds for more than 7 decades. And, while it is traditionally made with crawfish, there are variations that use shrimp or crab.

Etouffee is a French word, which translated literally means “smothered” or “suffocated.” However, in relation to food, it refers to a method of cooking where seafood is smothered in vegetables with a tomato-based sauce, resulting in a stew-like seafood dish. As a side note, many true foodies and culinary experts will tell you that a true Cajun crawfish etouffee does not contain tomatoes. The addition of tomato is a Creole way of preparing the dish.

Today, crawfish etouffee recipes abound, but that was not always the case. Food historians trace back Louisiana crawfish etouffee to the crawfish capital of the world, Breaux Bridges, Louisiana. According to culinary history, etouffee was first served in the Hebert Hotel in the early 1920s when Mrs. Hebert, along with her daughters, Yoli and Marie, made crawfish etouffee using crawfish tails, crawfish fat, onions and pepper. Later on, the Heberts shared their recipe with their friend, Aline Guidry Champagne. Ms. Champagne later opened a restaurant, the RendezVous Café, and began serving the dish there.

Today, the Hebert’s recipe has been altered somewhat as the original had more crawfish and a thinner sauce; whereas, now it is made with a thicker sauce. But, if you should wish to have crawfish etouffee made like the Hebert’s first served it, you should visit Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge.

Despite its longtime history of being on the menu in Breaux Bridge, it was not as popular in New Orleans until some years later. In fact, the renowned Galatoire’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street did not have crawfish etouffee on the menu until a few decades ago when one of the waiters brought the dish to the boss. The crawfish etouffee was an instant hit, and is now on the menu whenever crawfish are in season.

Making a Louisiana crawfish etouffee can take some time, but it is truly worth it. Its buttery richness (typically, people today replace the crawfish fat with butter) paired with the succulence of the crawfish, just the right amount of cayenne, then served over a bed of fluffy white rice is truly one of the best uses of Cajun crawfish there is.

So how do you make your crawfish etouffee? With tomatoes and without cream? Without either ingredient? A little cayenne or a lot? There are so many great ways to make crawfish etouffee and everyone believes their family has the best recipe.  So…If you have a favorite crawfish etouffee recipe, we would love to hear it! If you don’t, be sure to check out our crawfish etouffee recipes here on Cajun Crawfish.


Photo credit: jeffreyww