Feature

Recipe of the week: New Orleans’ best: Shrimp Creole with heirloom tomatoes

Chef John Besh remembers the Creole tomatoes that grew in the rich silt deposits of the Mississippi Delta when he was a child, but in his recipe for shrimp creole, “any ultraripe tomatoes” will work.

Chef John Besh remembers the tomatoes of his childhood, the Creole variety that grew in the rich silt deposits of the Mississippi Delta. Those tomatoes—“ugly and deformed, split to the point of bursting”—were sweet and only mildly acidic.

Today, though, commercial Creole tomatoes have become “a little too smooth and unblemished.” So Besh haunts farmers’ markets, hunting for heirloom tomatoes—Red Brandywine, Purple Calabash, and scores of other varieties. In his new cookbook, My New Orleans: The Cookbook (Andrews McNeel), Besh notes that “any ultraripe tomatoes” will work in this version of shrimp Creole. Recipe of the weekShrimp CreoleThis recipe will feed from 12 to 15 people, but you can halve ingredients if needed.

5 lbs jumbo Louisiana or wild American shrimp, peeled and deveinedSaltFreshly ground black pepper1 tbsp minced fresh lemon grass½ cup olive oil3 medium onions, diced10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced1 stalk celery, diced1 bell pepper—red, green, or yellow—seeded and diced5 lbs Brandywine or other heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped1 bay leaf¼ tsp ground allspice1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakesLeaves from 2 branches fresh basil, choppedLeaves from 1 sprig fresh mint, choppedSugar6–8 cups cooked basic Louisiana white rice

Put shrimp into large bowl, season with salt and pepper; mix in lemon grass. Heat ¼ cup oil in large deep skillet over moderate heat. Add shrimp, stirring and tossing with spatula. Sauté until they turn pink, about 2 minutes. Remove shrimp from pan; set aside while you make sauce.

Into same skillet with oil and shrimp juices, put remaining ¼ cup oil and onions, garlic, celery, bell peppers; cook, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low; when sauce comes to simmer, add bay leaf, allspice, red pepper flakes. Simmer 10 minutes. Add shrimp back to skillet along with basil and mint. Cook a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper. If sauce tastes too tart, add a little sugar to balance flavor. Remove bay leaf. Serve over steamed Louisiana white rice. Serves 15–18.

Louisiana White Rice1 tbsp chicken fat, extra-virgin olive oil, or butter1 small onion, minced1½ cups Louisiana long-grain white rice3 cups chicken stock1 bay leaf1–2 pinches salt

Put fat, oil, or butter and onions into medium saucepan; sweat onions over moderate heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour rice into pan, stir 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to boil. Add bay leaf and salt. Cover pan with lid, reduce heat to low, cook 18 minutes. Remove pan from heat, fluff rice with fork, and serve.

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