Home Sea Fare Spot On

Spot On

by James O. Fraioli
Photo by Tucker Hossler Photography

It’s New Orleans meets Northwest: Seize spot prawn season with JAMES O. FRAIOLI’s feisty étouffée served over creamy buttermilk grits.

Authentic crawfish étouffée in southwest Louisiana is a way of life. There, when you pick up a bag of the little energetic crustaceans, alive and fluttering around in black mud, no matter how much you rinse them, there always seems to remain a shrouded essence of swamp water. Enter their big cousin, the shrimp. In lieu of crawfish, using big, succulent shrimp—especially from the cold briny depths of the Pacific Northwest—elevates this dish while giving you a pretty authentic N’awlins étouffée, minus the swamp.

For those of us who are fortunate to live and play in Washington state, spot prawns are an excellent choice for this southern classic because of their intense buttery flavor and soft lobster-like texture. Spot prawns are also a true Northwest delicacy and, in my opinion, the most flavorful shrimp you will ever eat. When fishing for or purchasing spot prawns, it’s best to get them live and hold them on ice until ready to use. Spot prawns will only live a few hours, and for the best-tasting prawns, the heads should be removed, and the tails placed in the refrigerator or on ice for no more than a couple days (don’t discard the shells, we’ll need them for this recipe). The tails can also be frozen in a container filled with saltwater, which should last six to twelve months. This rich, spicy shrimp stew is best spooned over the simplicity of Buttermilk Grits and, son of a gun, you’ll have big fun on the bayou! This recipe is from The Tropicale Restaurant Cookbook: Comfort Food for a Modern World. I had the pleasure of collaborating with chef/owner Tony Di Lembo on this award-winning book. (If you’re not familiar, Tony was Barbra Streisand’s personal chef before he left to open the Tropicale.)

Cajun Spot Prawn Étouffée with Buttermilk Grits

Serves 8

½ stick sweet butter

⅓ cup flour

2 tablespoons bacon fat, lard, or olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 jalapeño, minced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped, with juice

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

3 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 quart Shrimp Stock, recipe follows

2 pounds fresh spot prawns, deveined and shelled (shells reserved), plus 8 whole prawns (in shell) for garnish

3 green onions, sliced ¼-inch thick

Tabasco hot sauce, to taste

Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

In a Dutch oven over medium-low, add the butter and heat until foamy. Whisk in the flour. Reduce the heat and cook over low until the roux is golden brown with a nutty aroma. Remove to a bowl and reserve. In the same pot, add the bacon fat, onion, celery, bell pepper, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the warm reserved roux and whisk to combine. Add the tomatoes, cayenne, bay leaves, thyme, Cajun seasoning, paprika, and celery seed. Cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in the Shrimp Stock and bring to a simmer. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the spot prawns along with the green onions, and simmer until the prawns are just cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with the Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.

Buttermilk Grits

2 cups quality coarse corn grits, not instant
6 cups water

2 cups buttermilk

3 bay leaves

Sea salt, to taste

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, to taste

2 tablespoons stick sweet butter

In a large container, cover the grits with the water and buttermilk, and soak overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, skim the “scum” from the top and pour everything in a large saucepot.  Over high heat, and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, bring to a vigorous boil. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Return to low heat, uncovered, and add the bay leaves. Cook 45 minutes, stirring often until the grits are tender. Keep the sides of the pot clean with the spoon. When finished, remove the bay leaves, and season to taste with salt and lemon. Stir in the butter until melted.

Serve the Cajun Spot Prawn Étouffée spooned on top of the Buttermilk Grits. Garnish each serving with a whole cooked prawn, as desired.

Shrimp Stock

Makes 1 quart of stock

1½ tablespoons olive oil

Reserved shells from 2 pounds of spot prawns

1 bottle beer

5 cups water

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

½ cup chopped carrots 

½ cup chopped celery 

5 garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon crushed black peppercorns

4 sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley

In a medium stockpot, warm the oil over medium-high heat to almost smoking. Add the shrimp shells only and stir. When the shells are pink and starting to color, add the beer. Reduce the beer by half, then add the rest of the ingredients listed. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour, or until there’s about 1 quart of stock remaining. Strain and reserve the liquid.

You may also like

Leave a Comment