Étouffée (pronounced ay-too-fay) is a luxurious stew from Louisiana that's typically made with shellfish. In this delicious, veggie-packed vegan version, bits of golden, chewy tofu spiced with Cajun seasoning make an appetizing stand-in for the seafood.
This vegan étouffée, a veggie-packed stew from Louisiana, is as close as it can be to an authentic version without the crawfish or shrimp that typically go into it.
The distinctive--and delicious--cuisine of Louisiana originated from a commingling of local flavors and ingredients available in this coastal state with the cooking techniques of foreigners who settled here, mainly the French colonists. (If you'd like to know more, here's an excellent article that explains the background of Louisiana cooking--and more specifically Cajun and Creole cooking--far beter than I can.)
One of the most delicious outcomes of this commingling was an étouffée. The word translates from French into "smothered" or "suffocated" and to break it down in the context of this dish, a meat, usually shellfish, is drowned in a flavorful sauce and smothered or braised with veggies.
This is hearty food, the kind that makes you lick your fingers and your bowl. And it is quite distinct from a gumbo, also delicious, which is soupier and made with more than one kind of meat and seafood (check out my vegan gumbo).
Why we love this dish
- It's packed with veggies.
- It's packed with protein.
- It can easily be made gluten-free.
- It's healthy.
- It's delicious.
- It's easy.
Making the roux
A "roux" is a fancy French term for a thick paste made by frying flour in fat to thicken and even flavor a stew or soup or gravy. One of the primary differences between the Cajun and Creole versions of an etouffee is the amount of time you cook the roux and its color before you add the rest of your ingredients in. In Cajun cooking, you'd cook the roux for as long as 30 minutes, until it's a deep chocolate brown (but not burnt!). In Creole cooking, you'd fry the flour for a shorter time and make a blonde roux.
For my vegan étouffée, I fry the roux in less oil than a Lousiana cook might approve of (many versions use a 1:1 proportion -- ½ cup of fat to ½ cup of flour. Some even double up on the fat, so you'd use a cup of fat to ½ cup flour.)
I just use two tablespoons of oil in the dish--half for frying the tofu and the other half for browning the flour that remains after coating the tofu. So my roux has a powdery texture, definitely dryer than a paste. And I fry the roux to the Creole standard--on the lighter side, with the final roux resembling the color of peanut butter. It works beautifully.
Making the roux and etouffee gluten-free: If you want to make the etouffee gluten-free, just use gf all purpose flour, no other adjustments required. Try and use a flour free of gum. Rice flour works too.
Steps and tips for making a vegan étouffée
- Start out by coating the tofu with spices and flour and then sauteing it until it's crisp. I used a teaspoon of storebought cajun seasoning and a few other spices and herbs like paprika, thyme, cayenne and black pepper (some of these are also in the cajun seasoning, so you can just add a soupçon more of each of these if you don't have the Cajun seasoning. Old Bay seasoning, if you have some lying around, is great too--no more than a teaspoon. Add ¾ths of a cup of all purpose flour to the tofu and toss it.
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a nonstick pot. Add the tofu after shaking off the excess flour in a single layer. Reserve the flour. Fry the tofu until crispy on the outside.
- Remove the tofu from the pot, set it aside, and add the remaning oil to the pot. Add the reserved flour and fry it, stirring all the time, until it begins to darken and becomes the color of peanut butter. You don't want to leave it unsupervised or it could burn, which would not be good.
- The first veggies you will add to the pot are those often referred to as the "holy trinity" of Louisiana cooking--onions, celery and bell peppers. I used orange and red bell peppers, but any color would be fine here. The colorful bell peppers make a prettier dish, but if you've read this blog before you know I love the savory green bell pepper more than any other.
- Add garlic--I like four cloves, minced. And thyme.
- Next add mushrooms to the pot. Wild mushrooms are great--reconstitute before adding if you use dry. I used crimini mushrooms, chopped into quarters. The mushrooms add great flavor and umami, and they almost disappear into the stew, so if you have someone around who doesn't love mushrooms (I do) this is a great chance to put one over on them. 😉
- Once the mushrooms have expressed their moisture, add tomato paste to the pot along with worcestershire sauce, a dash of soy sauce (not too much), water or vegetable stock and hot pepper sauce (I used sriracha because I had it on hand, but use any you have).
- Mix it all and let it come to a boil. Let the sauce continue to simmer on low heat for about five minutes, then stir in the reserved tofu, scallions and parsley and turn off the heat.
- Etouffee should not be too soupy, but if you want to thin out the sauce add more vegetable stock and make sure you heat through.
- Serve and eat!
What to serve with étouffée
A fresh, green salad is a great accompaniment. Or try this beet salad, which is super simple to make and great in winter, when beets are easily available.
I love serving the étouffée over rice. Brown rice or white rice would work, or try this yellow turmeric rice, which complements it perfectly.
Storing and freezing
This étouffée tastes even better as it stands, so you can easily make it a day ahead, especially if you plan to serve it for an occasion like Mardi Gras. Store it in the refrigerator and reheat in a saucepan or in the microwave before serving. If it's too thick, you can thin it out with more stock or water. Always check for salt and pepper and add more if needed after you add water to thin out any dish.
You can also place the étouffée in a freezer safe container and freeze. Thaw and reheat before serving.
- 16 oz tofu (preferably super firm or extra firm tofu. Press out the water if using extra firm. Cut into cubes about ½ inch square).
- ¾ cup all purpose flour (or glutenfree all purpose flour if gf)
- 2 tsp thyme (divided)
- 2 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp cayenne
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tsp Cajun seasoning (divided. Can sub Creole seasoning or Old Bay seasoning)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion (diced)
- 2 stalks celery (diced)
- 2 bell peppers (any color, diced)
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 8 oz crimini mushrooms (or any mushrooms, cut into 1-inch chunks. If using dry mushrooms, reconstitute them before adding to the stew)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce (use as much as you want)
- 2 cups vegetable stock (or water)
- 3 scallions (chopped)
- 2 tbsp parsley (chopped)
- Place the tofu in a bowl with the flour, half the thyme, paprika, cayenne, salt, ground black pepper, 1 tsp Cajun seasoning and flour. Toss to mix.
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large nonstick skillet or wide nonstick saucepan. Shake the excess flour off the tofu (reserve the excess flour) and place the tofu in the pan in a single layer. Fry on all sides until golden-brown. Remove to a dish.
- Heat the remaining oil in the same pan and add the flour remaining from coating the tofu. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the flour turns a deeper color that resembles the color of peanut butter. Don't leave the flour unattended or let it burn. This should take no more than 5-7 minutes on medium-low heat.
- Add celery, onions and bell peppers along with the garlic and remaining thyme and a dash of salt and ground black pepper. Saute for about three to four minutes or until the vegetables become soft but are not fully cooked. If the flour sticks to the bottom, scrape it up with a spatula.
- Add the mushrooms and continue cooking a couple more minutes. Then add the tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce and remaining 1 tsp of Cajun seasoning along with 2 cups of vegetable stock or water. Mix well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the sauce cook five more minutes.
- Stir in the tofu, scallions and parsley. Turn off heat.