A good rule of thumb whenever the whole “Creole vs. Cajun” thing comes up on cooking is that Creole = city, Cajun = country.
Creole cooking tends to come directly out of New Orleans, so it tends to feature more expensive ingredients (read: butter — if you lived out in the country without much refrigeration it was tough to keep on hand), and more of the multi-ethnic influence; French, Spanish and African cooking.
Tomatoes are a big part of that, and Shrimp Creole is a classic New Orleans dish that traditionally was a cold-weather thing back before it was easy to keep shellfish cold. But nowadays, we tend to think seafood in the spring, so this is something that’s not too hard to throw together on a Friday or Saturday night.
The recipe comes from Galatoire’s Cookbook, with a few modifications that I made out of necessity. Galatoire’s is my favorite among the classic NOLA places. Never tends to get too fancy or exotic, but it does what it does well. It’s a great cookbook to have if you ever really want to try the haute version of some city classics.
If you’ve got to the time to blanch and peel your own tomatoes, go for it. For me, canned worked out just fine.
3 14-oz cans peeled and diced tomatoes
2 tbsp salted butter
1⁄2 cup chopped celery
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1⁄2 cups)
1⁄4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 qt shrimp stock
About 1-1.5 lbs shrimp, peeled and cleaned
Galatoire’s likes to work with 21-25 count shrimp. I went with smaller, but I found that went farther.
1. First thing first, we’re going to melt the butter in a medium/large dutch oven over medium heat. Now you want to have the butter stop foaming, but not quite start to brown. Very important here, and you’ll want to watch and stir.
2. Increase the heat to high, then add the celery, bell pepper, onions, bay leaves and tomatoes and saute until the onions are well wilted and the tomatoes start to really lose their shape and dissolve. Make sure you stir often.
3. From there, lower the heat to medium and add the salt, paprika and cayenne, along with the tomato paste. Mix well and saute until the mixture starts to brown and the tomato starts to caramelize a bit. Stir often so it doesn’t stick.
4. Stir in the shrimp stock, a bit at a time, stirring well so the mixture combines well. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to simmer until the mixture starts to thicken to your desired consistency. Truthfully, the best way to do this is a day in advance, before adding your shrimp, but that’s a lot to ask for anyone with a family.
5. Add the shrimp and mix about 10 or 15 minutes before you’re ready to serve, and stir until the shrimp turn pink and curl up. Serve over rice, or your favorite pasta. This recipe will serve six.