Chef Syrena Johnson

Chef Syrena Johnson’s Crawfish, Shrimp and Okra Etouffee

Excerpt from IFT’s Culinary Point of View interview series. Each month chefs from all walks of life share a new point of view.

Kelly Hensel of Food Technology magazine recently interviewed New Orleans native, Syrena Johnson. Chef Johnson’s love for cooking started at home but it wasn’t until she enrolled in Liberty’s Kitchen—a non-profit cooking school designed to help disadvantaged youth throughout New Orleans—that she realized she could turn it into a career.

Johnson then entered the first-ever scholarship competition held by the John Besh Foundation’s Chefs Move! and won a scholarship to the International Culinary Center in New York. After graduating and returning to her hometown, she worked in a handful of upscale restaurants, learning from top chefs like Susan Spicer and Michael Gulotta. Here, 24-year-old Johnson shares her whirlwind journey and the kind of chef she aspires to be.

Read the full interview here:

Crawfish, Shrimp and Okra Etouffee with Rice Pilaf and Blackened Speckled Trout
Yields 8 servings


½ lb of butter
3 cup of onions chopped
1 cup of celery chopped
½ cup of seeded diced red bell peppers
½ cup of seeded diced green bell peppers
4 tbsp of AP flour
2 cup of water or chicken stock
1 lb of peeled cleaned crawfish
1 lb of peeled and deveined shrimp
½ tsp of salt
4 tbsp of chopped onions
4 tbsp chopped parsley
1 can diced tomatoes
½ tsp tomato paste

  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add onions and cook until soft and lightly golden brown 8–10 min.
  2. Add celery and bell peppers and cook stirring occasionally until soft for about 5 min.
  3. Cook until butter separates then sprinkle flour and stir to blend until mixture thickens slightly.
  4. Add the water or stock and reduce the heat to low.
  5. Stir to blend, add tomatoes and paste, season crawfish and shrimp with salt and add to pot.
  6. Add the green onions and parsley and cook for 10 min. Remove from heat and serve over rice.

Rice pilaf:
4 cup of rice
4½ cup chicken stock
1 sprig of thyme
15 g of shallots diced
1 tbsp of butter
1 garlic clove crushed

  1. In a medium pot sweat shallots in butter over medium heat until soft.
  2. Add rice and stir in with wooden spoon until fully coated.
  3. Add stock, thyme, garlic clove, salt, and pepper, bring to a boil.
  4. Cover and finish in oven at 350°F for 20 min.

Blackened mixture:
2 tsp of paprika
2½ tsp of dried thyme
1½ tsp of onion powder
1½ tsp of garlic powder
1½ tsp of salt
1 tsp of black pepper
1 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp of dried oregano

  1. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly until fully incorporated.

2 speckled trout or 8 120–130 g portions
1 cup of blackened mixture
30 g of canola oil

  1. Fillet fish or, if already prepared, season both sides with blackened mixture until fully covered.
  2. In a sauté pan with oil, blacken on both sides for 2–3 min over medium heat.
  3. To finish, use a small cup to mold rice in the middle of plate. Place fish on top of rice and ladle etouffee around rice. Top with parsley and serve.

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