On Ash Wesnesday, the day following Mardi Gras, whether from piety or sheer exhaustion, the entire city of New Orleans takes on a different demeanor. A quiet falls over the city. There are no more floats, fancy balls or raucous parties, but rather residents take to church on Wednesday to receive the ashes that remind them “from dust they came and to dust they shall return”.
Many fast through Lent, abstaining from a favorite food like sugar or meat. Of course, abstaining from meat along the Gulf Coast is no great sacrifice, when there are tasty dishes like Shrimp Creole. My uncle tells me it didn’t have the fancy name when he was growing up. It was simply stewed shrimp- a dish every New Orleanian grew up eating. Unfortunately, it fell prey to being shortcutted with canned tomato sauces barely spiced, but it’s absolutely worth making your own zingy sauce with fresh or best quality canned tomatoes.
For the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups onion, diced (added in stages)*
- 3/4 cups celery, diced
- 1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 cups canned best quality tomatoes**plus some of their juices, if desired
- 2 tablespoons Mutti Italian Double Concentrate Tomato Paste 4.5 oz. Tube
- 3/4-1 cup shrimp stock
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- A healthy pinch each of ground allspice and cloves
- Salt to taste
- 2 pounds medium to large shrimp
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
*The step of adding the onions in two stages is famously one of the techniques Paul Prudhomme uses to add an extra layers of flavor to his dishes.
** I have used, at various times, both San Marzano tomatoes and Muir Glen organic.
1. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to a large saute pan just until they begin to bubble, then add 1 cup of the onions. Sauté over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they turn a light golden brown.
2. Add the additional oil and butter to the pan, then add the celery, bell pepper and additional onions, and cook until they soften. Stir in the thyme, garlic, white, black and cayenne peppers, allspice, cloves and bay leaves.
3. Add 3/4 cup of the shrimp stock, and heat until the shrimp stock is mostly absorbed.
4. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, plus additional optional tomato juice, and simmer for abut 15- 20 minutes.Add 1/4 cup (or more if desired) additional shrimp stock to thin out a bit. Salt the sauce to taste.
5. Sauté the shrimp in a separate pan until they just turn pink. Add them to the sauce, adjust the salt and pepper to taste, and serve over steamed rice immediately.
Yield: Serves 6-8