The enticing aroma of crawfish étouffée simmering in the confines of a protective cast-iron pot has come curling out of JLNO Sustainer Laura Claverie’s Garden District kitchen dozens if not hundreds of times, filling her home and her guests’ senses with the allure of anticipation and satisfaction. Perhaps like no other community, New Orleans’ love affair with cooking is often synonymous with honoring the lifelong friendships of the folks who matter most. Here in the Crescent City, we serve up our culinary best for the loved ones we hold dearest. Laura is a living testimony of that mantra, and her go-to dish is a crawfish étouffée recipe from JLNO’s 1984 Jambalaya cookbook.
“This recipe combines everything I love about cooking,” Laura says. “Chopping, cooking in a cast iron pot, indigenous Louisiana ingredients. I can make it ahead of time so, when my guests arrive, I can simply enjoy my company. I could eat this recipe every day — I love it so much!”
Laura’s copy of Jambalaya offers physical proof of her loyalty. The book is held together with masking tape, filled with notes and dotted with splotches of bubbling étouffée sauce. After providing years of reference, the cookbook automatically opens to page 87, where one will find this beloved recipe. It’s obvious the crawfish étouffée is a favorite for Laura.
Certainly this accomplished woman needs a few secret recipes up her sleeve given her busy life. Laura is now the Executive Editor of the new Nola Boomer magazine, a hip, fun publication for those 55 and older. Laura is also an accomplished amateur chef — amateur only because she’s never been paid for her savory handy work though she’s taken cooking classes across the world. Originally hailing from Alexandria, La., Laura discovered her passion for creating in the kitchen when she moved to New Orleans in the early 70’s. Like many Louisianans, Laura attributes her affinity for Cajun dishes to the late, great legend Chef Paul Prudhomme who turned these once humble savory dishes into coveted, respected delicacies.
“After Hurricane Katrina, 43 of my high school classmates came down from Alexandria to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity,” Laura says. “I wanted to at least cook a good meal to thank them all for their trouble and hard work. I made this crawfish étouffée recipe, and it was a huge crowd pleaser!”
After testing different variations of this recipe religiously, Laura has a few upgrades that she suggests.
“I like to make this recipe a little richer,” Laura says. “It calls for 1 ¾ cups water, but I suggest instead using a home-made shrimp stock. I make this anytime we boil shrimp, and I save the stock for future use. Just cook the shrimp down with the heads on, adding onions, carrots and celery until the mixture is reduced 30%. Then keep it in the freezer until you’re making étouffée.”
Laura also suggests browning the flour to create a darker roux to add complexity to the flavor of this dish. Laura then throws in some lagniappe with ¼ cup chopped celery, a dash of creole seasoning and 1-2 bay leaves. Of course it probably doesn’t need to be stated, but Louisiana crawfish are a must, never imported crawfish. In her ideal world, Laura suggests making this dish at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
One more secret ingredient, or step, elevates Laura’s crawfish étouffée above most others. It’s a staple borrowed from history, in a time when modern day cookware wasn’t available via the internet for next day delivery.
Laura is a consummate proponent, collector and restorer of cast iron pots, a tradition handed down from her parents. She loves the feel of a cast iron pot and the unique flavor it adds to a dish. Her final words of wisdom: prepare every dish possible — especially crawfish étouffée — in cast iron cookware. No, you can’t clean it in a dishwasher or oven-dry it, but take Laura’s word for it,your trouble will be richly rewarded.
Naturally, like any kitchen wizard who delights in experimentation, Laura has put her own twist on this recipe, and now she’s sharing her secrets with us. Here is the original recipe, in case you don’t have a copy of the 1984 edition of Jambalaya handy:
2 pounds crawfish tails
¼ cup brandy
2 teaspoons salt
¾ cups chopped green onions
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 stick butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 ½ cups chopped yellow onions
Tabasco to taste
1 clove garlic minced
3 cups steamed rice
1 ½ teaspoons flour
1 ¾ cup water
Season crawfish tails with salt, pepper and paprika. In a large skillet, heat butter; add crawfish tails and sauté 3 minutes. Add yellow onions and garlic; cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with flour and blend. Add water, brandy, green onions, parsley, lemon rind, lemon juice and Tabasco. Simmer 10 minutes. Serve over rice.