A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from May 06, 2008
Etouffee (Crawfish Étouffée)

"Étouffée” is French for “smothered.” “Crawfish Étouffée” (smothered crawfish) is a popular dish in Louisiana, especially in Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World.” Crawfish étouffée became a popular dish in the 1950s, but it’s not known who originated the recipe of smothering the fish in gravy.

A recipe for “Des Ecrevisses Etouffes” was provided by Mrs. Cleveland P. LeBlanc and published in the State-Times (Baton Rouge, LA) on April 16, 1953.

A sign from the Hut and Oyster Bar in Opelousas, “GRAWFISH A-2-FAY $1.50,” was published in the The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA) on May 2, 1958. Columnist Howard Jacobs had no idea what it meant, but was soon informed by many people.


Wikipedia: Étouffée
Étouffée or etouffee is a Creole dish typically served with shellfish or chicken over rice, similar to gumbo, very popular in New Orleans and in the bayou country of the southernmost half of Louisiana. 

Etymology
In French, the word “étouffée” means, literally, “smothered” or “suffocated”, from the verb “étouffer”.

Description
The usual staple of an étouffée is seafood such as crawfish, shrimp, or crabmeat. Other meats, such as chicken, or a combination of chicken and seafood, are also used.

The base of an étouffée is a blonde roux. It is usually seasoned with cayenne pepper, onions, green bell pepper and celery (a.k.a. the holy trinity), garlic, and salt and has a thicker consistency than gumbo. A crawfish étouffée usually has a reddish color due to the crawfish fat which is an important ingredient. In some areas it has become popular to add tomatoes or tomato paste to the dish. However, most purists believe that once tomatoes are added, the dish ceases to be a true étouffée, and instead becomes a stew. In many parts of the country, outside of Louisiana, people make étouffée with cream; however, cream should never be part of a true étouffée.

Roux
The main difference between a stew/gumbo and an étouffée is that an étouffée is made with a “blonde roux” of butter and flour. Butter burns more easily than oil but can be used in a blonde roux since the roux is cooked to a beige or light brown color, instead of a typical Creole or Cajun roux, which is dark brown and made with oil and flour.

Tourism in Breaux Bridge (LA)—History
The growth of the town’s population eventually necessitated the establishment of a church parish in 1847, and in 1859 Breaux Bridge was officially incorporated. One of Breaux Bridge’s main attractions is its cuisine, especially crawfish. Restaurants of Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish openly on their menus, and it was here that the now world-famous crawfish etouffee was created. Breaux Bridge became so well known for its crawfish farming and cooking that, in honor of its centennial celebration in 1959, the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as “la capitale Mondiale de l’ecrevisse” or “the crawfish capital of the world”. Since this designation, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival Association has hosted the annual crawfish festival, recognized as one of the state’s finest festivals.

Tourism in Breaux Bridge (LA)—Crawfish 101
So how did the lowly crawfish gain such prominence in our culture? Well, actually, Native Americans in the area were the first credited with harvesting and consuming crawfish even before the Cajuns arrived on the scene. They used to bait reeds with venison (deer meat), stick them in the water and periodically pick up the reeds with crawfish attached to the bait. By using this method, the Native Americans would catch bushels of crawfish for their consumption. By the 1930s nets were substituted, and by the 1950s the now ubiquitous crawfish trap was widely used. The trap is still the current method of harvesting mudbugs.

Mrs. Charles Hebert is credited with being the first to put crawfish on a menu in the early 1920s. By the 1930s, crawfish were seen as a good source of protein, especially for poor Cajuns, though it actually took some convincing to get the locals to eat them. Crawfish étouffée made its debut in the 1950s, and now is the quintessential Cajun dish. Étouffée is prepared in as many ways as there are Cajun cooks living in our area-each one an original.

Breaux Bridge, LA - Crawfish Capital of the World
Crawfish Étouffée Recipe
(from Cafe des Amis)
This is a simpler, kitchenized version of the Cafe des Amis etouffee. “It’s not the same as the original,” says Cynthia Breaux, Cafe des Amis owner. “The original had more crawfish and a thinner sauce. Most etouffees have thicker sauces these days.”

Makes 10 servings, Preparation time: 30 minutes, Cooking time: 45 minutes
INGREDIENTS: Stock:
3 qts water
24 boiled crawfish heads (see note)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 tblsp creole seasoning
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper

Blond Roux:
1 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 tblsp chicken base
(found in spice sections of well-stocked supermarkets)
2 tblsp paprika

Sauce:
2 lbs crawfish tail meat
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (...)

Saveur magazine (issue #4)
Crawfish Étouffée
SERVES 6 – 8
According to Acadian cooks, étouffée—which was invented in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, in the late 1920s—is the most celebrated crawfish creation of all time.
1⁄4 lb. butter
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup celery, finely chopped
1 tbsp. garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. cayenne
2 cups hot Double-Rich Fish Stock
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 lbs. crawfish tails, peeled
1⁄4 cup scallions, finely chopped, for garnish
1⁄4 cup parsley, finely chopped, for garnish

1. Melt butter in a large, heavy pot. Add onions, peppers, celery, garlic, salt, and cayenne, and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
2. Add 1 1⁄2 cups of the stock. Stir cornstarch into remaining 1⁄2 cup stock and add to pot. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and cook until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
3. Add crawfish tails and cook until warmed through, 2–3 minutes. Garnish with scallions and parsley. Serve over rice.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Main Entry: étouf·fée
Variant(s): also etouf·fee \ˌā-tü-ˈfā\
Function: noun
Etymology: Louisiana French, from French à l’étouffée braised
Date: circa 1933
: a Cajun stew of shellfish or chicken served over rice

(Dictionary of American Regional English)
étouffée m [Fr étouffér to smother] chiefly LA
A Cajun stew usu consisting of crawfish (sometimes chicken) and vegetables.
1968 DARE (Qu. H45, Dishes made with meat, fish, or poultry) Inf LA19, Chicken étouffée—chicken with rice and relish; LA20, Crawfish étouffée; LA23, Crawfish étouffée—shrimp creole with crawfish.
1968 DARE Tape LA17, [Chicken étouffée is] kind of a offshoot of crawfish étouffée, which is native to the state...They all seem to have bell pepper and celery and onions, chopped up, cooked with them, and you cut up a frying chicken...and you sautee that..in a little butter, and you add your chopped bell pepper and celery and onions and let that sautee...You...serve it over rice.
1976 Capital Times (Madison WI) 22 Sept 21/1 csLA, The non-athletic “croppos” [crapauds]—Cajun for frog—found themselves in batches of etoufee and jambalaya.
1979 Hallowell People Bayou 117 sLA, Boiled crawfish is..thoroughly indigenous to the region...Other methods of preparation..do exist. One of them is crawfish etouffée. I learned the recipe from..a Cajun woman...She stood in her kitchen before a big bowl of pink, curled-up crawfish tails. Nearby was a smaller bowl full of greenish, semiliquid stuff. “That’s the key to a good etouffée, right there in that bowl. That’s the fat and that’s what makes your roux take on a special taste.” The fat, as she calls it, is actually the animal’s liver and pancreas.
1985 Austin Amer.-Statesman (TX) 7 July sec B 1, A recipe for crawfish(dad) etouffee...You get three pounds of crawdad meat--that’s the tails...Cook the veggies until they’re soft. Then add the crawdad meat and stuff.

16 April 1953, State-Times (Baton Rouge, LA), “Parish Library Pantry” by Mrs. Max Schenker, pg. 7-B, cols. 1-2:
Mrs. (Cleveland P.—ed.) LeBlanc’s family is French, and their cooking has a flavorful heritage and a flavor to make history. She has gracious consented to give us for you her recipe for smothered crawfish. Mrs. LeBlanc calls it Des Ecrevisse Etouffes—it sounds beautiful the way she says it; Mrs. Merck says she can’t pronounce it, but she sure can eat it.

Des Ecrevisses Etouffes
(For 4-5 people)
Scald and peel enough to make three cups crawfish. In a heavy pot, melt 1 large tablespoon lard. Put in the crawfish and brown them well, stirring so they won’t burn. When they are browned, reduce the heat to the simmering stage, and add the following:

1 large onion, chopped fine
6 or 7 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 rib celery, chopped fine
1/2 large bell pepper, chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste

Library Pantry
Cover and cook until tender. This goes well with rice.

2 February 1955, Daily World (Opelousas, LA), pg. 24, col. 2 ad:
NOW SERVING
CRAWFISH DAILY
All Styles: ETOUFFEE . PIE . BISQUE - STEW . PATTIES
Mulate’s Place
Breaux Bridge, La.


29 March 1955, Daily World (Opelousas, LA), pg. 2, col. 2 ad:
Crayfish Week
SOILEAU’S DINNER CLUB
(...)
Crayfish E’Touffe’e

27 May 1955, State-Times (Baton Rouge, LA), “Boys in Grey Plan Air Trip Into Wild Blue,” pg. 9-B, col. 6:
At noon, the group will stop in Rayne for a dinner of “crayfish etouffee,” given by the Young Men’s Business Club in connection with dedication of the new city hall.

January 1956, Redbook (New York, NY), “Gulf Coast Playland” by Booton Herndon, pg. 76, col. 2:
The food ( in Lafayette at the Evangeline Hotel—ed.) is luscious but not expensive (try crawfish étouffée at Evangeline Park).

13 July 1956, The Time-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Up and Down the Street” by the Want-Ad Reporter, pg. 11, col. 2:
SMOTHERED CRAWFISH DRAWS FAN LETTER
Mrs. C. J. “Lyl” Schexnaidre received a “fan letter” from Alva Weatherford, about the crawfish etouffee (smothered) which is advertised by Lyl’s Home Cooked Foods, VErnon 5-7317.

2 May 1958, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Remoulade” by Howard Jacobs, pg. 15, col. 1:
A FRANKLIN sign-spotter gandered this one at the Hut and Oyster Bar in Opelousas: “GRAWFISH A-2-FAY $1.50.” Can anybody explain that one?

7 May 1958, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Remoulade” by Howard Jacobs, pg. 11, col. 1:
And while on the subject, Mrs. John F. Posey advances an entirely new conception of crawfish etouffee, which most folks say means crawfish smothered in gravy.

Mrs. Posey contends that the French connotation is a corruption of the original French meaning. In classic French says she, “etouffee” means smothered in the sense that the crawfish are smothered, i.e., boiled. Hence technically, crawfish etouffee would merely refer to boiled crawfish. She cites a French dictionary which defines “etouffee” as smothered in the sense of asphyxiated.

26 June 1958, Daily World (Opelousas, LA), “Letters to the Editor,” pg. 5, col. 3:
Your friend of the Daily World and Good Old Opelousas
(De home of de Crawfish A 2 Fay)
JOSEPH A TROSCLAIR
New Orleans.

18 December 1958, Gettysburg (PA) Times, pg. 2, col. 4:
To Cajun Land
(...)
Plan to be in Breaux Bridge at mealtime, for this French-speaking community is famed for a delicacy known as Crawfish Etouffee.

Google Books
Adventures in Good Eating
by Duncan Hines
New York, NY: Duncan Hines Institute, Inc.
1959
Pg. 144 (La Place, LA):
Crayfish etoufee, steaks, Southern fried chicken.

29 November 1959, Victoria (TX) Advocate, “Regional Specialties Delight the Palate in Eastern U.S.” by Edward Collier, pg. 7, col. 3:
New Orleans, famed for its gourmet restaurants, has nothing that can surpass Crawfish Etoufee at Breaux Bridge.

22 March 1960, New York (NY) Times, “Food: Time of Crayfish” by Craig Claiborne, pg. 32:
Next in popularity is the étouffée (pronounced ay-tu-fay) in which the crustaceans are stuffed with a forcemeat.

3 April 1960, Pasadena (CA) Independent Star-News, “Louisiana Island Gastronomical Paradise” by Helen Evans Brown, pg. E6, cols. 5-6:
A crayfish party at Breaux Bridge, “Crayfish Capital of the World,” was on the evening agenda.
(...)
The crayfish etaufee, however, was sublime. The shellfish, which the French call ecrevisse and many Westerners know as crawdaddies, are first scalded. (Chef Latiolais used 175 pounds of the little dears to serve about 20 of us!) They are then broken in half and the fat, or tomally, squeezed out of the head end. In this chopped onions and green peppers are cooked long and lovingly, while the tall meat is extracted from the shells.

The two are combined, seasoned, and stewed or smothered a bit longer. This celestial concoction is served with rice.

1 February 1962, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 25, cols. 1-2 ads:
FARM ROYALE
2701 Beaumont Hwy
YU2-2941
Beaux Bridge
CRAYFISH
HAVE NOW ARRIVED
Serving
CRAYFISH E’TOUFFEE
and
CRAYFISH BISQUE
(...)
LEO and WILLIE
3825 16th St.
Now Serving
CRAWFISH
BISQUE and E’TOUFEE
with Green Salad and Garlic Toast
Crawfish shipped direct daily, from Breaux Bridge, La.

24 February 1962, Port Arthur (TX) News, “Breaux Bridge Cajuns Revolt Against Non-Crawfish World,” pg. 10, cols. 5-6:
We find that the majority of the citizens in this state and nation are incompatible with us in that:
1. They do not eat couche-couche.
2. They can not make, much less do they eat, gratons and boudin.
3. They cannot make a decent crawfish stew or etouffee.
4. They can not cook grillades a la chique.
5. They can not cook nor do they eat courtbouillon de poisson.
6. They murder what should be good gumbo.
7. They are not disciples of Epicurus.
8. They can not dance a fais do-do.
9. They can not let Le Bon Temps Roulet.
10. They can not speak Cajun.

22 April 1962, New York (NY) Times, “Tourists Are Welcomed at Crawfish Festival in Bayou Country” by Robert Meyer Jr., pg. XX13:
...étouffée, a rich crawfish stew;...

17 January 1963, Big Spring (TX) Daily Herald, “Influences in Southern Cooking Art,” pg. 6B, col. 5:
From the kitchens of the Negro cooks came the gumbo, etouffee, bisque, mock shu, rich pastries, hot sauces and rich gravies poured over fluffy white rice.

30 March 1965, New York (NY) Times, “Swamps of Louisiana Yield Earthy Delicacy” by Craig Claiborne, pg. 40:
The most general ways of eating crawfish in Louisiana are boiled and eaten out of hand with sauce; cooked in a savory sauce called étouffée, or in a bisque garnished with stuffed crawfish heads.
(...)
One of the leading crawfish cooks in Louisiana is a Monroe gourmet and lawyer, McVea Oliver. His recipe for crawfish étouffée, served recently in his home on the banks of the DeSiard bayou, follows:

CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE
3 tablespoons salad or olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 cups tomatoes, preferably Italian plum style
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped scallions, including green part
1/4 cup crawfish stock (see note)
5 pounds crawfish tails
2/3 cup crawfish fat (see note)
1/4 teaspoon monosodium glutamate
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon each ground rosemary, marjoram, thyme, oregano, sage and basil.

1. Heat two tablespoons of the oil and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, approximately one hour or until sauce is thickened. There should be about one cup of sauce.
2. Melt the butter and the remaining oil in a large Dutch oven or kettle. Add half the scallions and cook briefly. Add sauce, stock and crawfish tails, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir briefly and bring to a boil.
3. Add the crawfish fat, monosodium glutamate and seasonings. Cook, stirring occasionally, 30 to 40 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with remaining scallions. Serve piping hot with rice.
Yield: Eight to ten servings.
Note: Crawfish stock is made by boiling shells and other discarded portions of the shellfish in water to barely cover. if the shells are not available, substitute chicken stock. When shelled crawfish are purchased, there is always a certain amount of crawfish fat clinging to the meat. If sufficient crawfish fat is not available, some Louisiana cooks substitute chicken fat.

26 December 1965, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Bayou Country Presents Le Petit Paris D’Amerique” by Horace Sutton, section D, pg. 8:
A local booklet of recipes lists such local delights as Etouffee d’Ecrevisse (smothered crawfish), crabes farcis (stuffed creole crab), and cush cush et cafe brule, a favorite eye opener.

22 October 1970, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section E, pg. 7:
CRAWFISH ETOUFEE
8 pounds fresh crawfish
6 onions, chopped fine
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped green onion (including some top)
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup cold water
Salt, black and red pepper

Boil crawfish and peel. Add onions and celery to oil and saute until transparent. Stir in green onion, parsley and tomato paste. Stir flour into water and then add to first mixture and cook, stirring constantly. Season with salt and peppers, add crawfish tails. Bring to boil in covered pot and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Serve with rice. Makes eight servings.

Ventura County (CA) Star
Flavor elevates crawfish etouffee from its humble origins
By Colleen Cason
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
(...)
Invented 70 or so years ago beside the Bayou Teche in Breaux Bridge, La. — some 125 miles west of New Orleans — crawfish étouffée has been declared the most ordered item in Cajun Country restaurants by chef Paul Prudhomme.

Every Cajun family has its own version, but the essence of étouffée is crawfish, butter and onions, said Barry Ancelet, professor of Cajun French and folklore at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette.
(...)
That changed sometime in the early 1930s when the Hebert sisters of Breaux Bridge cooked up the first étouffée for guests at their inn.

Mud bugs or no, patrons spread the word as far away as Texas that the dish — which the sisters called crawfish court bouillon — was delicious.

The Heberts sold their establishment and recipe to Ilene Champagne, who renamed it by accident. A French-speaking patron asked Champagne what she was cooking and she replied in French that she was smothering crawfish.

Étouffée — pronounced ay-too-fay — is French for smothered. The name stuck, Breaux said.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Tuesday, May 06, 2008 • Permalink