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 week
This 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 deveined
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp minced fresh lemon grass
½ cup olive oil
3 medium onions, diced
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 bell pepper—red, green, or yellow—seeded and diced
5 lbs Brandywine or other heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
Leaves from 2 branches fresh basil, chopped
Leaves from 1 sprig fresh mint, chopped
6–8 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 Rice
1 tbsp chicken fat, extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
1 small onion, minced
1½ cups Louisiana long-grain white rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1–2 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.