HomeCultureChef Isaac Toups has the Recipe to Bring Family Together

Chef Isaac Toups has the Recipe to Bring Family Together

There is no introduction better than Chef Isaac Toups’ own words about his Maw Maw’s Gulf Seafood Couvillion. Toups, the author of award-winning book Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and the New Cajun Cooking, describes the roots of his hearty seafood stew:


This is my grandmother’s seafood stew recipe. She was hell on wheels with a fishing pole. If she was making couvillion, she’d catch the fish and clean it herself. In fact, she liked fishing so much she stocked her swimming pool with fish to catch. No joke. It was a legit cement pond. Yeah, we’re country. She’d put a whole fish in this couvillion, usually speckled trout or redfish, scaled and gutted but with the head on. The fish would break down in the pot and thicken and season the broth. Once the fish fell apart, she knew the couvillion was done. If you have a big enough pot, you can easily multiply the recipe. We’ve got a big ole family, so Maw Maw Toups was always doubling it—she never knew who might show up.”


An excuse to bring the entire family together during the holidays, this stew is adaptable and sure to keep everyone full and smiling. Chef Toups’ family cooking can also be found at Toups’ Meatery and Toups South.

Gulf Seafood Couvillion


6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick)  unsalted butter, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 large rib celery, finely diced
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 bay leaves
7 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 cups fish, crab or shrimp stock
1 tsp. picked and minced fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
3 to 4 lbs. mixed seafood (see note below)
Jasmine rice or any medium-grain white rice, for serving


Note: Recipe allows for 6 to 8 ounces of seafood per person, in any combination of fish, peeled shrimp and crabmeat. I [Chef Toups] prefer flaky white fish like speckled trout or redfish, either whole filets or filets cut into 2-inch slices. (Or you can do like Maw Maw Toups and put a whole gutted and scaled fish in.) The crab will break apart to thicken and season the stew, so don’t splurge on jumbo lump; backfin or claw meat will work fine. Do pick through the crabmeat to remove any bits of shell. (I dip my fingers in a cup of water as I pick through the crab. The bits of shell sink to the bottom when you dip, so you don’t flick it back into the crab.) For shrimp, go with peeled and deveined extra jumbo 16/20s (that is, 16 to 20 per pound). Ratio-wise, I tend to do equal parts by weight of fish and shrimp and go lighter on the crab because it’s expensive.


In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter until it quits bubbling. Add the trinity (onion, bell pepper and celery), salt and bay leaves, and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sweat for 1 more minute. Remove the vegetables from the pan and reserve. Make sure you get all the vegetables out, but there’s no need to wipe or clean the pan. There’s still a lot of flavor in the fat that’s leftover.

In the same Dutch oven over medium heat, make a brick roux (recipe below), using the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the flour and adding the tomato paste once the roux hits blonde. When the tomato paste begins to brown, add the vegetables back to the pot and stir.

Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon until all the brown bits have come up. Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until fully incorporated after each addition. Add the thyme, paprika, cayenne and white pepper, and stir.

Bring the mixture up to a simmer over medium heat and cook uncovered for 45 minutes.

Add the seafood and cook for 15 minutes, until the fish breaks apart easily. (If you are using a whole fish instead of fish filets, cook the fish for an hour, until it breaks down, and add the rest of the seafood 15 minutes before it is done).

Adjust salt to taste and serve over rice.


Brick Roux

Brick roux is blonde roux cooked with tomato paste. As soon as you have blonde roux, take the paste (or even tomato puree or tomatoes crushed by hand) and caramelize it with the roux.

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup  tomato paste

In a Dutch oven or heavy skillet set over medium heat, make a blonde roux (recipe below) with the butter and flour. Once the roux is ready, add the tomato paste. Stir that in and let it caramelize until it starts sticking to the bottom. Cook it until it browns a little. I smash down the tomato paste evenly across the bottom of the pot to increase the surface area that is caramelized by the heat. This should take about 10 minutes total, and results in a brick red roux with a charred tomato flavor. Makes 3/4 cup.


Blonde Roux

This is white roux that’s been cooked for a couple of minutes. Blonde roux is made with butter and becomes a base for a béchamel sauce, white gravy, cream sauce or any cheese sauce. Use it basically anytime you’re trying to thicken dairy. When I make a roux with butter, I typically deviate slightly from the 1:1 fat-to-flour ratio, because the butter loses a little weight when water cooks out of it. In general, it’s OK to have a little more fat than flour in a roux.   

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

In a Dutch oven or heavy skillet set over medium heat, heat the butter until it melts and then stops bubbling. Watch carefully; you don’t want it to brown. Once the butter’s melted, you’ll see sediment collect at the bottom of the pan. Those are the milk solids, and some people scoop them out—but you should taste them. They’re delicious. Don’t throw them away.

Once the butter stops bubbling, dump the flour in—no need to sprinkle it like it’s precious. Stir well to combine the butter and flour. Cook the roux a minute or two, stirring often, until it darkens by one shade and starts to smell nutty. Makes 1/4 cup.

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