Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cajun Courtbouillon or Shrimp and Fish Stew

Seafood stew or soup with a Louisiana pedigree, Cajun courtbouillon is what my grandmother always made with red fish. Delicious!

If you are an expat like I am, you vacillate between loving your time at home home (where you are from) and wishing it were longer, and appreciating some distance from family politics and dynamics when it’s time to go home (where you live.)  The happy medium here is when family comes to visit.  

First, they are on neutral turf, your turf specifically, so everyone is making nice like visitors should, and secondly, you are so busy doing touristy things and seeing sights and enjoying their company, that time passes quickly and you wish they could stay longer. And that is where I am this week. 

My mother and sister are here and we are riding camels at the pyramids at Giza and shopping at the Khan al Khalili and sipping coffee at Al Mokattam which is the highest point in Cairo and has a fabulous view of the city.  Yesterday we drove to the coast so they could dip their toes in the Red Sea. We have also been cooking deliciousness every night. (I am going to miss them when they are gone!)

One of our favorite meals is a traditional Cajun seafood soup called courtbouillon, pronounced coo-bee-yaw in southern Louisiana, made with a roux.

1/2 cup or 120ml canola or other light oil
1 cup flour
2 medium onions
1 large or 2 small bell peppers (Preferably green but yellow will do in a pinch.  Just don't tell my grandmother!)
4-5 stalks celery
1/4 cup or 60ml tomato paste
2 liters or 8 1/2 cups fish stock or water with stock cubes to create equivalent
Sea salt
Black pepper
Good handful of green onion tops
Good handful of flat-leaf parsley
3/4 lb or 350g shrimp, peeled and cleaned
1 1/3 lbs or 600g grouper or other white fish fillets
Cooked white rice or fresh baguette to serve.

Peel and finely chop your onions, bell peppers and celery.  A food processor can be used but be sure just to pulse the vegetables and don’t puree them.  Set aside.

Put your oil and flour into a heavy bottomed pot and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or other heat-resistant stirring implement, like a silicone spatula.

Once all the flour lumps have been dissolved, turn the fire on medium and cook, stirring frequently at first and then constantly as the roux begins to dark.

  Cook and stir until your roux is about the color of an old copper penny.

Add in the chopped vegetable all at once and stir well to mix.  The mixture will be quite stiff.

Cook the vegetables for about five minutes, stirring all the time, and then add in the tomato paste.

Stir to incorporate the tomato paste and then add in the fish stock or water and stock cubes.  Stir or whisk to combine.

Bring to the boil and then simmer, covered, for at least one hour or until you are about 20 minutes from serving your courtbouillon.  Check the level periodically, and add more water if it is getting too thick for your liking.  You do want it to reduce but some people prefer courtbouillon thinner like soup or very thick like stew.  In our family we make it like a thick soup.

Meanwhile cut your fish into good-sized pieces and season with salt, black pepper and cayenne.  If your shrimp are not peeled and cleaned yet, do that now and season them with the same.  Refrigerate until needed.

Chop your onion tops and parsley.   Set aside.

Plant the white onion bottoms in some soil in your garden.  They will sprout all over again.  

When you are about 20 minutes from serving, turn up the heat on your courtbouillon until it is gently boiling again and slip the fish pieces and the shrimp into the pot.  Turn the heat down right away and stir ever so gently to distribute the fish and shrimp around the pot.  You do not want to the fish to break all apart.

Stir in the chopped parsley and green onion tops, reserving just a little for garnishing each bowl.

Check the seasoning and add more salt and cayenne as needed.  Serve over white rice, with French bread on the side for dipping.  We also add extra hot sauce to each bowl at the table.



  1. What a wonderful soup, Stacy, I love it, really is just my kind of thing! Perfect for the coming months, love the beautiful presentation too!

  2. What a great and simple soup! The Italian version of fish soup involves multiple steps like boning and preparing a broth with the fish bones.....

  3. I often prepare stock with fish bones or shrimp shells but I hate to scare anyone off. :) It is quite delicious just like this.

  4. Thanks, Lin. After it was eaten, I thought of all kinds of photos I could have taken with a basket of baguettes, etc. At the time, everyone was hungry and it was all I could do to photograph one bowl!

  5. Ooooooooohhhhhhhhhh WWWWweeeeeeee! Lawd, dat sur do look good, nah? :) It looks wonderful!

  6. This sounds sooo good! And I know exactly what you mean about being an expat. So fun that your family is visiting! Four of my best friends just booked their tickets to visit me in Israel for New Years and I'm giddy. I really and truly need to make it over to Egypt soon!

  7. You must have some Cajun blood in you, Kelli!

  8. I am sure I answered this, Katherine, but my message isn't here. Ah, Blogger. :( One of the best parts of living overseas is the anticipation when friends come to visit. I complete understand your giddiness! Have fun! I wish I'd be here to show you around but regardless, do come. It's a lovely country.

  9. Thanks for sharing the recipe with pics.. its make easy to understand more.. I am sure fish soup is too much tasty as well..

  10. Thank you, Stuart! It was very tasty.


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