Louisiana Creole cuisine is eclectic.
Uniting the flavors and fare of West Africa, France, Spain, the Caribbean and the American South, it highlights the various cultures that resided in South Louisiana in the 18th century. And, as food often does, it transcended the otherwise-segregated society, bringing together 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. And both use the “holy trinity” as a base for dishes: onions, bell peppers and celery sautéed in oil. And both came from Southern Louisiana. However, Cajun food, with its smoked meats and rice-laden dishes like boudin and jambalaya, has its roots in more rural parts of the region, while Creole cuisine, with dishes such as grits and étouffée, 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. We have learned to be savvy with resources, while using what’s available. Similarly, Creole cuisine revels in improvisation.
In this shrimp Creole, for instance, you can play with the depth of the roux. The recipe calls for a peanut butter-colored roux, a medium roux, but, if you want more umami, you can cook it a little darker. Still, if you want to taste the delicate seafood flavor more robustly, you can opt for a lighter roux.
And don’t let a missing ingredient or two keep you from preparing this dish. The roux can be made with just about any fat — from vegetable oil to rendered animal fat. If you’re missing a spice or two, that’s perfectly fine, and 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, the combination of spices and dried herbs (basil, thyme, oregano and bay leaves) adds layers of flavor. But if you have fresh herbs, use them to add even more vibrancy.
Embrace the capacity to adapt that we have all honed in on these recent months, and nothing will keep you from making an excellent shrimp Creole.
Recipe: Shrimp Creole