Shopping. Decorating. Dinner parties. Whew, makes me tired just writing the words! While this is the most magical and beautiful time of the year, its 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, its 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 Souths 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 its 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 thats 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 thats 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. Its perfect for Christmas Eve.
Now take a breath and have the happiest and safest of holiday seasons.
Fred Thompson is author of Fred Thompsons Southern Sides and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.