Last week, I mentioned my tendency to file away recipes for the next season, holiday, or some such special occasion only to forget about them at the designated time. Call it recipe overload. But there’s a particular reason why I chose Mother’s Day over Mardi Gras to share this southern Louisiana staple. It’s my mom’s favorite.
When my mom looks back on all the years she made this meal, she now says that it most reminds her of summer nights at the shore when my siblings and I were young. No doubt, the memories that weave their way into the meals we’ve eaten over the years add their own special flavor.
Every August, my family enjoyed regular get-togethers with several families who vacationed at the same time we did, and the moms shared the dinner duty. When it was my mom’s turn, she’d whip up her shrimp Creole because she could easily double or triple the recipe to accommodate the big group. For added ease, she’d prepare the sauce in advance, adding the shrimp as she reheated it. Even the rice could be made earlier in the day and rewarmed. And though the recipe scored points for ease and flexibility, it had a little wow factor, too.
Perhaps most importantly, all the kids would eat it! I didn’t care for olives—my mom’s signature touch in this recipe—nor do my kids. The funny thing is, I never knew they were there, and neither do my kids. They could absolutely be omitted, but I think the subtle briny flavor adds something special.
In this classic Creole dish, the Holy Trinity of onion, celery and bell pepper forms the foundation of a flavorful tomato sauce that is then infused with a cayenne-based seasoning. The shrimp are briefly simmered in the sauce, which is served over a bed of rice. For variety, I sometimes serve the sauce in a bowl and scoop the rice over top.
Traditionally, Creole dishes do not contain a roux. Instead, the sauce is simply simmered to the preferred degree of thickness. Though my mom never did this, I add a cup of chicken broth to my sauce (if you have shrimp stock, by all means use it) to maintain a little soupiness. Over time, I’ve also dabbled with a little extra spice. If cooking for young children, you may absolutely omit the herbs and spices. They add complexity to the sauce, but it will still be a treat without them.
Most of the ingredients are basic pantry staples, and a bag of frozen shrimp (peeled, deveined, but uncooked) is a convenient shortcut in this recipe. For variety, other Creole-type dishes can easily be made by substituting different meat—like chicken and sausage—for the shrimp. Feel free to improvise based on what you enjoy or happen to have on hand.
Yield: 6 servings
- 2 tablespoons butter (may substitute olive oil)
- 1 small to medium onion, diced
- 1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato puree
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/3 cup (about 8 large) green olives, diced
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning (like Tony Cachere’s; may substitute Cajun seasoning)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of the pepper mill
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see notes)
- 1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (I like medium size for a greater number of bite-size shrimp throughout; frozen and thawed works well)
- For serving: rice, parsley, hot sauce
- In a large skillet (12 to 14-inch diameter with a lid) heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add the bell pepper and celery and sauté until softened, about 2-3 minutes more. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, or an additional 30-60 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes with juice, tomato puree, broth, olives, Worcestershire, Creole seasoning, sugar, salt and pepper, thyme, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, and then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring once or twice, for 20-30 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened to your degree of liking.
- Add the shrimp to the tomato mixture and cook (uncovered and stirring occasionally for even cooking) for another 5-6 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque and just cooked through. Serve over rice. Garnish with parsley and pass hot sauce at the table, if desired.
- The Creole seasoning is mildly spicy but this amount will not make the recipe “hot.” If you aren’t a fan of spicy foods, you may omit the cayenne pepper or use 1/8 teaspoon for some flavor but very mild heat. For a medium amount of kick, I recommend adding 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Feel free to add more according to personal taste or simply pass the hot sauce when serving as an option for those who want it.
The sauce may be prepared 1-2 days in advance. Simply add the shrimp as the sauce is reheated prior to serving, simmering until just opaque. If looking for a no-salt option to the typical Creole seasoning blend which does contains salt, they are available. Locally, The Herb Shop at Lancaster Central Market offers one.