I’ve never liked Shrimp Creole. Maybe it’s because my mom never cooked it or because the few restaurant versions that I’ve tried were disappointing. But oddly enough, it has always been a dish that I wanted to like.
I hadn’t thought much about my dysfunctional relationship with Shrimp Creole until recently while reading through a bunch of recipes and stories on roux-based dishes. Every time a Shrimp Creole reference crossed my desk, my mouth watered. They all sounded so rich, comforting and tasty, but my food memories recalled otherwise. I had never eaten a bowl of Shrimp Creole that was rich, comforting or tasty. The plates I recall were incredibly acidic, watery and flavorless. So in an effort to mend this relationship, I embarked on a little cooking therapy.
I set out to make a Shrimp Creole that I’d be proud to eat and share. I started with a mix of flavorful spices. I then whipped up a rich, milk chocolate roux and cooked it down with the Holy Trinity (onions, celery and green bell pepper) and good quality canned tomatoes. I also:
- chopped the trinity, or seasoning vegetables, very small so they would easily cook down with the roux and sauce (Shrimp Creole has gotten a bad rap over the years from some not-so-authentic restaurants serving the dish with big chunks of celery and bell pepper that stare you in the face with every bite. That is so wrong. The trinity’s sole purpose is to provide a layer of flavor, not steal the show.); and
- simmered the roux-based tomato sauce for two hours (As with any good red gravy, this version needed time for the flavors to develop. The hourlong simmer was perfect for breaking down the tomatoes and extracting the deep smoky flavor from the roux. This process ultimately contributed to the rich, deep layers of flavor I had always come to expect from this dish but never got.).
The finished dish was delicious and full of flavor. I now have a healthy relationship with Shrimp Creole and another keeper in my recipe file.
Shrimp Creole Recipe
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 26.46-ounce box Pomi chopped tomatoes
2 cups seafood stock
3 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Baked Rice, for serving
In a small bowl, thoroughly combine seasoning mix. Set aside. In a large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, make a roux by heating the oil over medium high heat. Gradually add the flour, whisking carefully and vigorously after each addition until smooth. Continue whisking until a milk chocolate roux is achieved. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Sauté until vegetables begin to break down, about 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomato paste; sauté 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, stock and seasoning mix. Simmer over low heat partially covered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp, green onions and parsley. Cook until shrimp are done, about 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve over rice with lots of French bread on the side. Makes 6 servings.