Weekend Gourmet

Shrimp Creole is quick, easy and festive

CorrespondentDecember 8, 2012 

Shrimp Creole.

COURTESY OF FRED THOMPSON

  • Shrimp Creole 2 tablespoons bacon fat plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, or all canola oil 1 cup peeled and chopped yellow onion 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped 1/2 cup chopped celery 2 teaspoons minced garlic 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes 1 teaspoon Italian dried herb mix 1 bay leaf Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 1/2 pounds medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice HEAT the bacon fat and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, celery and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, but not colored, stirring occasionally, about 5-8 minutes. ADD the tomatoes, herb mix and bay leaf, and continue cooking until the tomatoes have broken down a bit, and most all the juice has evaporated. This should take about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. ADD the shrimp, stirring them into the tomato mixture. Continue cooking until the shrimp are just done, 5 minutes or so depending on the size of the shrimp. REMOVE from heat, taste, and add a little bit of the lemon juice, and taste again. Use the lemon juice to adjust the taste. Remove the bay leaf and serve. Yield: 4 servings SERVE WITH: Rice is an absolute with Creole. While white rice is usual, the nuttiness of brown rice is interesting, too. Add a green salad and you’re done. TO DRINK: Try a dry Muscat from Portugal.

Shopping. Decorating. Dinner parties. Whew, makes me tired just writing the words! While this is the most magical and beautiful time of the year, it’s also pressure-packed.

If confusion is beginning to set in, let me suggest a recipe that was once super fashionable and remains an excellent way to a good, quick, formidable taste experience: Shrimp Creole. With most grocers’ running specials on shrimp this time of year, it’s economical, too.

The hotbeds of shrimp Creole were Charleston, S.C., and of course, New Orleans. The dish quickly spread throughout the South, and when New Orleans’ cuisine exploded onto the national culinary table, much of the country was eating Shrimp Creole. But what really is “Creole”?

Creole refers to the blending of language as children migrated from different areas. Creole food was the culinary tradition of their parents, as they melded into the foodways and local ingredients of their surroundings. In this country, when we use the word Creole, we immediately think of the Mississippi Delta and the joining of French and American Indian cooking. The Spaniards first called the people of this area Criollo, which became Creole. Being Creole represented a lifestyle of elegance with a love of full-flavored foods. Creole soon became a term for the best of French, Spanish and African cooking, as they filtered into the South’s kitchens.

So Shrimp Creole originated in the Delta, right? Wrong.

The beginnings of this dish are found in the roots of the Caribbean, with some African and Portuguese thrown in. Every culture that comes to our country creates its own culinary Creole, and for the most part, food is one of the best tools for learning about other peoples. Too bad politics and religion are so difficult.

This recipe contains the “holy trinity” of what we normally call Creole: onions, bell pepper and celery. One of the beauties of this dish is its suitability for making ahead. Do everything except adding the shrimp, and then reheat the sauce and poach the shellfish in it just before serving. I think it’s better made ahead, giving the ingredients time to marry and allowing you to work as many as three days ahead. The bacon fat is a great taste, but if that’s not in your diet, use oil instead. You might like a combination of olive and canola oils.

Give yourself a break from the routine with a dish that’s easy, colorful and festive, with a dose of food history thrown in. Not only is this a great choice for an easy dinner party, but also your family will love it just about any time. It’s perfect for Christmas Eve.

Now take a breath and have the happiest – and safest – of holiday seasons.

Fred Thompson is author of “Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides” and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at fdtfx1@earthlink.net.

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