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Étouffée: Smothered Down South

One weekend, I found myself searching for a break from my French language research. I reached for a southern cookbook by Martha Foose, appropriately titled Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. Just reading the title makes me feel good! As soon as I opened the book to page 135, I knew my break from the French language was over.

The recipe for Shrimp Boats showed a French translation underneath the heading: Pirogue Pistolettes. In this case, a pirogue refers to a type of boat found in the Gulf waters, and a pistolette is a type of bread roll from New Orleans, Louisiana. Yes, you see a photo of an autumn favorite (see the apples above), but stick with me. Martha Foose, one of the best cookbook writers I have ever encountered, explained another French culinary term in a way I could understand. Here are her words:

"The term étouffée is used in French cooking for what we Southerners call "smothered."

Well, now, that's more like it! Even after I translated this word for my list of Culinary Terms, I did not truly grasp it. The term was defined a bit differently in the 1879 cookbook Nouvelle Cuisinière Canadienne:


Faire cuire des substances dans un vase bien fermé.

Cook substances (braise) in a tightly closed vessel.

This is a nice and tidy definition, but a good Southern spin on the topic really lets you picture it just right, doesn't it? It's certainly better than the first result I found from a certain online translator, which said it meant "to choke." Yikes!

Speaking of French language issues, I ran into another one when I searched for recipes containing l'étouffad, or "the suffocation" as it's defined elsewhere. Nouvelle Cuinsinière Canadienne offered two recipes with this technique involving pommes de terre. I quickly scanned the recipes, thinking they referred to apples, rather than noticing "de terre," thus changing the term from apple to potato (la pomme = apple; however, la pomme de terre = potato). Does this mean that another southern favorite, the sweet potato, is referred to as la pomme douce? Non ! The sweet potato is la patate douce. Looks like I need to grab a glass of sweet tea and dive back into this lovely French language.


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