A spicy shrimp stew is sensibly adapted for a young couple with a healthful goal.
Credit: Randy Mayor

The Reader: Katharine O’Hara McIntyre, 26, attorney, Washington, D.C.

The Recipe:  Shrimp Étouffée

The Story: Katharine began dating her Louisiana-native husband, Charles Aaron, while attending law school in New Orleans. He introduced her to “some wonderful foods,” including a shrimp étouffée, a spicy Cajun classic made with a rich, nutty roux. After much trial and error, Katharine perfected a recipe for the dish that easily adjusts to accommodate a dinner for two or a hungry crowd of 10. Unfortunately, the expansion of her culinary repertoire with such indulgent dishes, combined with the stresses of a recent move to Maryland and intense study for the bar exam, began to stretch the couple’s waistlines, as well. They have since adopted more healthful cooking habits, but Katharine would like to treat Charles to his beloved Louisiana fare on a more regular basis. She requested our help revising the recipe so they can enjoy it without compromising their commitment to living well.

The Dilemma: “Étouffée” is the French word for “smothered,” and this dish swims in two sticks of butter and sodium-laden ingredients. With 32 grams total fat and 1,200 milligrams of sodium per serving, the original contains nearly half the recommended daily intakes of both based on a 2,000-calorie diet, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One bowlful has 20 grams of saturated fat―more than a day’s worth, according to the American Heart Association’s recommendations.

The Solution: We trimmed the 3/4 cup butter originally used in the roux to 1/4 cup, shaving 134 calories, 15 grams of total fat, and 12 grams of saturated fat per serving. Since we used less butter, we also cut down on the flour so the roux achieved an appropriately thick, nutty consistency that contributes to a pleasing, silky étouffée. To further reduce fat, we sautéed what Louisianans call “the trinity of aromatics” (bell pepper, onion, and celery) in just one tablespoon of butter to stretch the rich flavor and add body to the finished dish. This change trimmed another five grams of fat (three grams of it saturated) and another 50 calories per portion.

We watched the sodium levels by calling for low-sodium chicken broth and salt-free Cajun seasoning, and used just one-quarter teaspoon salt, shaving nearly 354 milligrams of sodium per serving. Twice the amount of fresh garlic and ground red pepper, along with some Worcestershire sauce, added zesty interest to the thick stew with minimal added sodium. A little chopped sweet red bell pepper, along with the traditional green variety, brightened the dish.

The Feedback: The McIntyres are pleased with our improvements. In fact, except for the addition of the red bell pepper, the couple “couldn’t tell the difference between the regular and the lightened version,” says Katharine. They’re delighted to re-introduce this much-loved taste of home to their dinner table.

Before | After
Calories per serving
623 | 395
32.5g | 12.2g
Percent of total calories
47 percent | 28 percent