Shrimp Creole, Etouffee, And Stew: What’s The Diff?

Q. When I order shrimp etouffee in a restaurant I never know what I’m going to get. Sometimes it has tomatoes in it like shrimp Creole. Sometimes it’s brown like crawfish bisque. And I have no idea what the distinction is between an etouffee and a stew. Do you? Or is this one of those stupid questions that everyone knows the answer to except me?

A. Let’s start with what they have in common. They’re all shrimp dishes that contain so much sauce that the shrimp practically float in sauce. The point of departure is the composition of the sauce, and how the dish is cooked. The size of the shrimp typically differs, although that’s not a make-or-break issue.

Shrimp Creole generally starts off with big shrimp, seared in a hot pan with a little butter and seasonings, and then covered with the classic Creole sauce of tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, celery, bay leaves and black pepper. It’s the fanciest of the three, the one most likely to be seen in a restaurant.

“Etouffee” means “smothered.” This is a concept found everywhere in Europe, but there doesn’t seem to be an English name for it. The Italians have the best translation: “in humido.” For that preparation, medium-size shrimp are cooked with butter or oil and onions, bell peppers and celery until they’re nearly done. Then flour is added to make a light roux, followed by shrimp stock. The shrimp are cooked just a little longer, until the elements of the dish come together, and served with green onions.

A shrimp stew is a home-style dish, and a good use for shrimp small enough that you can pick up a few of them in a forkful. Shrimp stew generally includes other vegetables besides the trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper (okra is common; chunky tomatoes are sometimes in there). Everything is cooked together, with shrimp stock or just water used as the matrix of the thing. Typically, the stew is cooked at a simmer, to the point that the shrimp become very soft. You could almost say that a shrimp stew is a shrimp gumbo without a roux.

None of these definitions is set in concrete, and finding someone with a different take on my ideas would probably require asking only one or two other cooks.

When I order shrimp etouffee in a restaurant I never know what I’m going to get. Sometimes it has tomatoes in it like shrimp Creole. Sometimes it’s brown like crawfish bisque. And I have no idea what the distinction is between an etouffee and a stew. Do you? Or is this one of those stupid questions that everyone knows the answer to except me? Click for the answer. . . .“> Read More. . .

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