When I learned that April’s CharcutePalooza challenge would be tasso ham, I was both frightened and excited because I had no idea what tasso ham was. However, once I read that tasso ham is a typical Cajun ingredient, I felt a little more comfortable as I’m somewhat familiar with the cuisine. At that point, I decided to make an untraditional version one of my favorite Cajun dishes: etouffee.
Since etouffee is traditionally served over rice, serving it inside a baked bao would qualify as untraditional. The idea of stuffing a bao with etouffee came to me in a somewhat convoluted fashion. When I started thinking about the ingredients for etouffee, the taste of celery from the holy trinity kept persisting in my mind. I think this happened because I’m not a fan of raw celery, and that prejudice may have unconsciously carried over to cooked celery.
Regardless, the combination of celery and pork took me back to grandma’s baked char siu bao. Her version of the classic Cantonese barbeque pork bun uniquely contained sauteed celery, and that became the catalyst for my etouffee baos.
Out of all the CharcutePalooza challenges thus far, tasso ham required the least amount of time to prepare and could be done in a single day. After curing for a few hours, the pork had to be smoked. Since I didn’t have any existing smoking equipment, I opted to buy a small stovetop smoker. In hindsight, I probably would have been happier spending a little extra more money on the larger model.
The smoker came with some alder wood, which I read is commonly used to smoke seafood. As such, I decided to use that as the source of smoke and make my etouffee a shrimp etouffee. After reading through the manual, I was surprised to learn that the smoker is designed to create a 375 degree smoking environment. Since the hot smoking recipes in Charcuterie call for a 200 degree smoking environment, I started the process on a medium heat stove for about 10 minutes in order to get the wood smoking and then transferred the smoker to a 200 degree oven. It took about an hour for my 1-inch thick slabs to get up to temperature.
With the tasso ham done, I turned to making pork-shrimp stock for the etouffee. Using the pressure cooker method, I was able to make a nice pork stock from fresh meaty pork bones in about an hour. Once the pork stock was strained, I added it back to the pressure cooker with the heads and shells from the shrimp I peeled for the etouffee and boiled it at pressure for about 10 minutes. I made sure to squeeze every ounce of shrimp head goodness when straining the stock for a second time.
As the pork-shrimp stock cooled overnight in the fridge, something odd happened. What looked like tiny mountain ranges of amazing pork and shrimp fat congealed at the top. Usually the fat congeals flat, but not this time.
With all my mise en place finished, I started making the etouffee. Despite having set out to eat the etouffee in bao form only, I simply couldn’t control myself. Once it was done, I had to have a plate over rice right then and there. Luckily for me, my Asian heritage pretty much guarantees that I’ll have leftover rice in the fridge 6 out of 7 days of the week. The spices from the tasso ham melded nicely with the sauce and the smokiness from the alder wood definitely went well with the shrimp.
With my plate of etouffee over rice devoured, I turned to thickening the sauce a little more so I could fill the baos without making a huge mess. I could have easily just used more flour in the roux when making the etouffee sauce, but I wanted to experiment with xanthan gum for the first time after being inspired by the use of it in pasta in this post. One gram of xanthan gum thickened the sauce enough to the point where I could easily portion the etouffee onto the bao dough, but it did make it a little clumpy.
In the end, the etouffee baos were good, but I preferred the etouffee traditionally over rice because it had a higher sauce to starch ratio. Although this is something easily remediable for next time, this meant there was simply more flavor in each bite when eaten eaten over rice.
As for the tasso ham, the smokiness heightened the etouffee a lot. Being a fan of American barbeque, especially Chicago style rib tips, I can definitely say that I’ll be using my new smoker a lot this summer. The only issue is that it makes my home smell smoky and savory for a good 4 or 5 days, which isn’t a necessarily a bad thing.
Shrimp Etouffee (adapted from here)
Mise En Place
- 75 g (~0.17 lbs) onion, diced
- 75 g (~0.17 lbs) bell peppers, diced
- 75 g (~0.17 lbs) celery, diced
- 175 g (~0.39 lbs) tasso ham, diced
- 490 g (~1 lb) shrimp, peeled
- 355 g (~1 cup) stock
- 113 g (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 16 g (~2 Tbsp) flour
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat
- Add the flour once some of the liquid has evaporated from the butter. Stir to make a thin roux.
- Add the onion, bell peppers, and celery and stir until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the tasso ham and shrimp. Simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Serve over rice.