Growing up in Louisiana, we ate tons of local seafood — chargrilled; deep-fried and piled high on French bread; and tossed into murky, bewitching gumbos. Or simply smothered, as in étouffée, or Creole-style, simmered with tomatoes.
The base is simple, made up of a light blond roux, the “holy trinity” — celery, onion and green bell pepper — tomato, spices and seafood. If featuring shrimp, it’s worth removing the shells and cooking them in a small pot with enough water or white wine — plus some salt, pepper and maybe a piece of celery or onion or garlic — to cover the shells. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, strain and discard the shells, and use this flavorful stock in place of water. In Alaska, I like to make this with our local wild spot shrimp and/or fresh cod. But often I toss in whatever I have in the freezer, including halibut, salmon and even smoked fish. Serve with a vinegar-based hot sauce, steamed rice and crusty bread. It’s not traditional, but I also like a small kick of freshly grated or prepared horseradish for shrimp cocktail vibes.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped yellow or white onion (1/2 medium onion)
1/2 cup chopped celery (1 large stalk)
1/ cup chopped green or red bell pepper (optional)
3 medium cloves garlic, smashed and minced
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 (15-ounce) can tomatoes (diced or whole peeled)
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium Creole or Cajun seasoning mix
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 teaspoons fresh herbs: thyme, oregano, bay leaf (or 1 teaspoon dried herbs)
Freshly-squeezed juice of 1 lemon (zest lemon first and reserve for garnish)
1 1/2 cups fish stock/shrimp stock (or vegetable or chicken broth or water)
Dash hot sauce such as Tabasco or Crystal
Dash Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 pounds large, fresh shrimp peeled and deveined or fresh cod, cut into 2-inch pieces (or rockfish, halibut, salmon)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
For serving: cooked rice; hot sauce; chopped parsley or green onion, lemon zest; fresh or prepared horseradish
In a large heavy-bottom pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Make a light roux by adding flour to the pot and cooking, stirring constantly, until a peanut butter-colored roux forms, about 5 to 7 minutes. If browning too quickly, reduce heat slightly. If you have the patience, cook the roux for 10 minutes for a deeper, nuttier flavor. Reduce heat to low and add onion, celery and bell pepper, if using. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add canned tomatoes — if using whole, crush with hands or a potato masher — Creole seasoning, cayenne, thyme, oregano, bay leaf and lemon juice; stir to combine. Add a few dashes of hot sauce and Worcestershire. Bring to a low boil. Add stock and stir. Let cook on medium-low until sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes. Gently stir in seafood. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and let cook for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and taste; adjust seasoning as needed. The shrimp should be just pink and the fish starting to flake easily. If tomatoes are a bit acidic, stir in 1 tablespoon butter until it melts; this will mellow out some of the acidity. Garnish with chopped green onion and lemon zest. Serve with cooked rice, hot sauce and bread.