Shrimp Creole is a New Orleans classic

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – Recently, a reader chastised me for using FOMO.

He wrote, “What does FOMO mean? I hate when writers use abbreviations without first explaining. “Well, if it bothered you, too, let’s clear this up right now. It means fear of missing out and I’ve got it bad right now.”

February 16 was Mardi Gras. For a New Orleans native like me, that usually means a day of costuming, hanging out with family and friends, catching beads at parades, eating yummy food, listening to great music and so much great people-watching.

This year, even if I were in my hometown, due to the pandemic, the parades were cancelled, gatherings were curtailed and the city shut down restaurants on one of the busiest days of the year.

We’ve all been living with what feels like perpetual FOMO, but if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we have to make the best of the hand we have been dealt.

In the Crescent City, residents did that by creating what some are calling Yardi Gras or “house floats”. They decked out their homes with papier-mâché flower and jesters, inflated octopus legs and giant images of the city’s icons, such as Professor Longhair and Chef Leah Chase.

Shrimp creole. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

This way, folks could walk or drive by the houses rather than pine for the cancelled parades that usually roll past them. As for me, I took the day off. I put on my furry cat ears and paint whiskers on my face, click on my New Orleans and Carnival music playlist and made a big pot of New Orleans comfort food.

That’s where this Shrimp Creole comes in. This recipe is adapted from one served as a special at Lil Dizzy’s Cafe in New Orleans, which had been run by Wayne Baquet Sr and his wife, Janet, since 2005.

The couple, who had shut down the restaurant in March and did limited community feeding contract work due to the pandemic, had decided to sell or close the restaurant famous for its trout Baquet and bountiful buffet.

That is until their son, Wayne Baquet Jr, and their daughter-in-law, Arkesha Baquet, stepped in and agreed to keep it going. New Orleanians breathed a sigh of relief.

Lil Dizzy’s may be just 15-years -old, but, as food writer Ian McNulty wrote in the Times-Picayune and Advocate, the Baquet family’s roots in the city’s restaurant scene are deep: “News of the restaurant’s closing brought an outpouring of gratitude for all the memories through the years, but also grief.

“It was not just the loss of another restaurant in a year that has claimed many but also the end of a family tradition in New Orleans hospitality, one that dates from the 1940s and stands as one of the city’s longest-running Black business legacies.”

Now, thanks to another generation picking up the mantle, Lil Dizzy’s re-opened on Monday, just in time for Mardi Gras, with a truncated menu and service changes to accommodate social distancing and safety.

“It was fun, but it’s time for a changing of the guard,” said Wayne Baquet Sr, who has been in the restaurant business for more than 50 years. He was ready to retire, but he says it is gratifying to know that the Baquet name will remain part of the city’s rich dining scene.

As I was deciding what to make for my Mardi-Gras-from-afar feast, it seemed fitting to flip through the self-published The Baquet Family Cookbook to find a dish that would celebrate that past and the joy of knowing that at least one favourite spot, will be bustling and busy when Mardi Gras 2022 rolls around. The cookbook’s recipes come from the Baquets as well as Janet’s family, the Jourdains. The Shrimp Creole is from Janet’s mother, Elsie Jourdain. “She cooked that every Friday when we were coming up,” she said. The couple assured me the Shrimp Creole will be back as a special on Lil Dizzy’s menu.

This one-pot dish, similar to an étouffée but with the addition of tomatoes, comes together in about 45 minutes, fewer if you buy your shrimp already peeled and deveined. That makes it a great dish for any weeknight.

Following the Lil Dizzy’s recipe, I strayed from the way I usually make it, adding thyme, lemon juice and tomato sauce, as directed. (I couldn’t help myself, though – I had to add diced tomatoes, too. Janet Baquet said her mother didn’t use whole tomatoes, because, as kids, they loved the smooth gravy, no chunks for them.) As I suspected, those few extra ingredients add depth and nuance to the sauce. The Baquets knows what they’re doing.

SHRIMP CREOLE

Don’t let the longish list of ingredients put you off. This one-pot classic New Orleans dish comes together quickly from common pantry ingredients and easy-to-find produce. If you prefer to make yours with tomato sauce alone, the way Lil Dizzy’s does, omit the diced tomatoes and increase the tomato sauce to a full cup.

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to two days.

INGREDIENTS

Three tablespoons unsalted butter

Two tablespoons all-purpose flour

One large onion, diced

One green bell pepper, diced

Three large celery ribs, diced

One can diced tomatoes

One cup seafood broth, no-salt-added chicken broth or water, or more as needed

Quarter cup tomato sauce

Three garlic cloves, minced

One bay leaf

One teaspoon Creole seasoning

Quarter teaspoon dried thyme or thyme leaves or one teaspoon dried thyme fresh

Quarter teaspoon table salt, or more as needed

One-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed

Two pounds peeled, deveined medium shrimp (41-50 count), thawed if frozen

Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Two teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving, if desired

Two cups cooked white or brown rice, for serving

Chopped scallions, for serving

Hot sauce, for serving

DIRECTIONS

In a Dutch oven or deep-sided pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour turns light tan, three to five minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about eight minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce, garlic, bay leaf, Creole seasoning, if using, thyme, salt and cayenne. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened and most of the liquid evaporates, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the shrimp and lemon juice and cook just until the shrimp curl, turn pink and are cooked through, three to four minutes, depending on their size.

If the mixture is too thick, add broth or water, a few tablespoons at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.

Discard the bay leaf and taste the sauce, adding more salt and cayenne as desired.

Stir in the parsley, ladle over rice and garnish with parsley or scallions, if using. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.

Nutrition (Based on six servings)

Calories: 264; Total Fat: 9g; Saturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 242mg; Sodium: 849mg; Carbohydrates: 13g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugar: 6g; Protein: 27g.