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Recipe: Shrimp Creole for our times

Louisiana Creole cuisine is eclectic.

Uniting the flavors and fare of West Africa, France, Spain, the Caribbean and the American South, it highlights the cultures that resided in South Louisiana in the 18th century. And, as food often does, it transcended the otherwise segregated society, merging heritages on a plate.

Creole cuisine is often confused and used interchangeably with its cousin, Cajun cuisine. Both use a roux, a thickener of flour and fat cooked together to add flavor and color to a dish. Both use the “holy trinity” as a base: onions, bell peppers and celery sauteed in oil. And both came from Southern Louisiana. However, Cajun food, with its smoked meats and rice-laden dishes, has its roots in more rural parts of the region, while Creole cuisine, with dishes such as grits and etouffee, came from New Orleans.

But most notably, Creole cuisine is adaptable — a trait many of us have tuned into these past tumultuous and unpredictable months.

Don’t let a missing ingredient or two keep you from preparing this dish. If you’re missing a spice or two, you will still get a worthy, comforting stew. And if you’d like a little more heat, increase the hot sauce to your liking.

And, of course, rounding out the flavors is the Creole seasoning. You’ll find similar spice blends in just about every Louisiana kitchen, and in just about any supermarket, but you can make your own: In this dish, spices and dried herbs add layers of flavor. But if you have fresh herbs, use them to add even more vibrancy.

SHRIMP CREOLE

  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning store-bought or homemade, divided (see note)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce (no salt added)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce, or to taste (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH dried thyme, oregano and basil
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems

Toss shrimp with 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning; set aside.

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle with flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until a roux the color of peanut butter forms, about 10 minutes.

Add onion, celery and bell pepper, increase heat to medium and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.

Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in water, then tomato sauce, hot sauce (if using), sugar, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaves, salt, pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 10 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally to make sure bottom doesn’t burn. (If needed, add more water.)

Add seasoned shrimp; simmer until opaque and cooked through, about 5 minutes, turning each piece halfway through cooking time.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes, uncovered.

Sprinkle with scallions and parsley. Serves 4.

>> NOTE: To make Creole seasoning, combine 1 tablespoon EACH smoked paprika, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon EACH cayenne pepper, fine sea salt and black pepper. Makes about 1/4 cup; store it in a cool, dry place.

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