This Cajun crawfish étouffée recipe is made with loads of vegetables and tender crawfish tails in a spicy, rich dark brown gravy. This special meal takes a bit of planning, but you can prep it in advance.
A Crawfish étouffée recipe is not something you’ll see everyday unless you live in New Orleans, but you can easily master this recipe and it will be the star of your next dinner party or special occasion, perfect to make ahead so you can enjoy time with your guests!
While I’m sure fresh crawfish would be amazing in this dish, there are no fresh crawfish where I live, so I’ve only used frozen crawfish and they work perfectly.
Several years ago, Mike and I went to the Fearrington House for a cooking class. This was one of the best cooking classes because I learned all the tips and tricks to making a fabulous dark brown roux.
One of the dishes we learned to cook was crawfish étoufée. I’ve made it many times over the years and it’s one of Mike’s favorites. It takes some planning so I don’t make it as often as I should. I thought it was time to share the recipe along with some tips that I learned.
I don’t think I’ve had anything quite like this Cajun dish. The rich brown roux adds a unique flavor that is achieved by a longer cooking time than a white or brown roux that you would use for gravy.
The hardest part about making étouffée is gathering the ingredients. Most are pantry staples, but it can be hard to find crawfish and you may not have file powder in your pantry. It just means you’ll have to plan in advance to make sure you have these two ingredients.
If you love seafood, but don’t have all the ingredients for étouffée, then try some Southern shrimp and grits or this easy shrimp salad or skip the crawfish and add shrimp, chicken and sausage for a Cajon Gumbo.
What is étouffée?
Étouffée is a popular Cajun stew made with shellfish, such as crawfish or shrimp, and vegetables. Typically it’s served over rice. A dark brown roux used to prepare the sauce gives the dish its rich flavor and dark color.
Étouffée, pronounced “ay-too-FAY”, comes from the French word for smother or suffocate which is a reference to the cooking method used to prepare it.
Why you’ll love it
- Makes a big batch. Perfect if you have a crowd coming or to make meals to use later on!
- Great flavor and a tasty combination of ingredients.
- Crawfish add a unique flavor
What you’ll need
The ingredient list for this recipe is quite long and there are a few that may be slightly difficult to source locally depending on where you live. But there are some resources for where to find them or substitutions which you will find below.
- Flour: All-purpose flour is toasted and then used to make the classic dark roux found in many Creole and Cajun dishes.
- Butter: The butter gives rich flavor and fat to crawfish étouffée. It’s used to cook the roux (the flour paste mixture that thickens the sauce) and also to saute the vegetables.
- Tomato paste: Adds a depth of flavor to the étouffée.
- Vegetables: Sauteed onion, green pepper, and garlic add the first layer of flavor to the étouffée.
- Chicken stock: Use a quality chicken stock with good flavor, make sure to warm it up before adding it to the roux.
- Crawfish tails: Crawfish is a freshwater crustacean that looks a lot like a mini lobster. Unless you live somewhere close to where crawfish are found, you will need to use frozen crawfish which you can find at some grocery stores with the other frozen seafood. If crawfish isn’t available, make your étouffée with shrimp instead.
- Bay leaf: Added to the sauce to add flavor while it cooks. Just be sure to remove it before serving.
- File powder: This seasoning comes from grinding the leaves of the sassafras tree with a flavor that’s a little like root beer. It is a signature ingredient in Creole cooking where it thickens sauces and adds flavor. If you can’t find it on your spice aisle in the grocery store, you can order it from Amazon.
- Pepper: Use a combination of white and black pepper.
- Dried spices: Basil, thyme, and onion powder are simple pantry staple spices you will need for étouffée.
- Cayenne: This adds the signature spiciness in etouffe. You can adjust the amount you use to your own spice level or even serve some up on the table to let everyone add more if they want it spicier.
- Garnishes: I like to use chopped green onion, parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
How to make crawfish étouffée
Follow along to see step-by-step images on how to make the best crawfish étouffée. Check the recipe card for more detailed instructions.
Step 1: Get ready
Toast the flour. Heat flour in the oven on a baking sheet at 350º for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. When it’s ready, the flour should be light brown. Prepare this step days in advance if desired. If you skip this step, you will have to cook the roux for about 45 minutes to get the deep brown color you need.
Combine all the spices in a bowl and then separate the mixture into two small bowls. Set out all remaining ingredients and prep the veggies so they are ready to add.
Rinse the crawfish tails well and pat them dry.
Step 2: Make the roux
Melt some butter in a skillet, slowly add the flour and half of the spice mixture, and cook over medium low heat until it’s dark brown, (this will take 30-45 minutes if you haven’t first browned the flour in the oven) then add the tomato paste.
It will get very thick.
Slowly add the warm broth, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.
Step 3: Cook the veggies
Melt some butter in a separate skillet and sauté the vegetables and add the other half of the spice mixture.
Step 4: Finish up the étouffée
Add all of the sautéed vegetables and crawfish tails to the finished roux.
Garnish with green onion, parsley, and lemon juice. Serve right away over rice. You can make the roux in advance and then warm it while you are sautéing the vegetables.
How to serve crawfish étouffée
Crawfish étouffée is traditionally served with white rice though it can also be served with Cajun dirty rice. Since it’s quite like a stew, the rice makes a tasty pairing!
- Bread: Add on bread to soak up any extra sauce. You might consider homemade dinner rolls, or buttermilk cornbread biscuits.
- For dessert: Serve up some bread pudding, lemon chess pie, or peach cobbler.
Make ahead: Crawfish étouffée is perfect to make in advance. I recommend making the roux (up through step 4) and then store it in the fridge for up to three days in advance. When ready to prepare, return it to the skillet and heat it up with a little extra chicken broth. Then continue with the recipe. You can also chop all the vegetables up to three days in advance and mix up the spice mix.
Leftovers: Store in the fridge for three to five days in an airtight container. You can freeze leftovers and re-warm it in the oven.
Mise en place is a key step to make cooking this recipe and ensuring its success. Prep all your ingredients, measure out the spices, and have everything arranged close to your cooking space.
Be patient. The longer you cook the flour the darker the sauce will be which means it will have more flavor. You don’t want to burn the flour but the browner you can get it the less time you will spend at the stove stirring.
Use heated chicken broth and add it slowly to the skillet. It’s important to let it thicken after each addition before adding more. Heating it versus adding cold broth speeds up the process.
Rinse the thawed-out crawfish tails and pat them dry so they don’t add extra liquid before adding them to the étouffée.
Make the roux ahead of time to save some time. Then a few minutes before dinner, heat the roux, sauté the vegetables, and add the crawfish. That way you not standing at the stove stirring instead of enjoying your guests.
What does étouffée taste like?
Étouffée is generally a spicy dish with a rich nutty flavored sauce that comes from the toasting of the flour and the long cooking time of the roux.
What is the difference between a gumbo vs étouffée?
These two dishes are quite similar but have some significant differences. They both usually start with a classic dark roux, are flavored with file powder, and have the consistency of a thick stew. But in most instances étouffée is made with only seafood while gumbo includes chunky vegetables such as tomatoes and okra and may also be made with a variety of seafood, chicken and sausage.
MORE Seafood Recipes You’ll Love
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- ¾ cup flour
- ¾ cup butter
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1½ cups onion diced
- 1 cup green pepper dice
- 3 tablespoons garlic minced
- 4 cups chicken stock hot
- 2 lb. cooked crawfish tails rinse and pat dry
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon file powder
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon basil dried
- 1 teaspoon thyme dried
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ cup parsley
- 1 cup green onions chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Place flour on a rimmed baking sheet and Heat flour and bake at 350º for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. It should be light brown. This can be done days in advance.
- Combine the salt, file powder, white pepper, black pepper, basil, thyme, onion powder and cayenne and separate into two small bowls. Set out all the remaining ingredients so they are ready to add. Rinse cooked crawfish tails well and pat dry.
- Warm the chicken stock in the microwave.
- In a large skillet melt ½ cup of butter, slowly add flour and ½ of the spice mixture and cook until dark brown, add tomato paste and stir until incorporated. Heat up the stock in the microwave. Slowly add warm stock to the mixture, stirring constantly until it has thickened. Salt to taste.
- Add the the remaining ¼ cup butter to a separate skillet and cook the green peppers and onions until softened, about 5 minutes then add the garlic and the remaining spice mixture and cook an additional minute.
- Add all of the sautéed vegetables and crawfish tails to the finished roux and cook for 1 minute. Garnish with green onion, parsley and lemon juice.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- If you do not brown the flour, you will need to cook the roux much longer to get to the deep brown color.
- Warming the chicken broth speeds up the cooking time.
- You can substitute shrimp for crawfish tails.
- This is best served over rice.