A whole bowl of Creole – and don’t skimp on the shrimp
The sauce can be made ahead of time and the prawns added and cooked before serving
Creole and Cajun are often mixed up but they are two distinct ethnic groups with their own unique histories, traditions and cultures. Creole recipes are based on traditional gourmet French food, but with multiple influences, whereas Cajun food is smoked, stewed or spicy, with meat, seafood and rice.
Creole cooking can be found in the heart of New Orleans, with Cajun food having come from the descendants of French Canadians who were relocated from Nova Scotia to rural Louisiana. So both cuisines have French roots, hence the similarities, but Creole also has Spanish influences. Both use rice and ingredients from the locality. The main defining factor is that Creole cooking uses tomatoes, local herbs and rich sauces. Cajun cuisine has more spices, smoked sausages, big one-pot rice dishes and stews. Neither are very spicy but do use cayenne pepper in cooking and serve hot sauce on the table. Both styles use what they call the holy trinity – finely chopped green pepper, celery and onion – as the basis of most dishes. It is similar to the mirepoix in French cuisine where finely diced carrot, onion and celery form the flavour base for many dishes, or the Italian soffritto of onion, garlic and tomato.
Crawfish, also known as crayfish or Louisiana lobster, is the quintessence of bayou fare. It appears in soups, stocks and pies. Louisiana produces more than 100 million pounds of crawfish per year, with red swamp and white river crawfish being the main species harvested. I’m using prawns here to make shrimp creole, a very traditional and much-loved dish. It is similar to another famous Creole dish, shrimp Étouffée, except it does not have a roux base but uses tomatoes instead.
This sauce can be made ahead of time and the prawns added and cooked just before serving. The dish has very basic ingredients and is so easy to prepare. It can easily be scaled up to feed a crowd. It does feel like a real treat, though, any time I make this – mostly due to the prawns, which I rarely buy. Try to find good-quality, sustainably sourced prawns. Sustainableseafood.ie delivers nationwide as does starseafoods.ie and eatmorefish.ie.
If you’re growing your own tomatoes this summer, then take this deliciously simple dish to the next level using fresh tomatoes. They add such an incredible sweetness and freshness that isn’t comparable to the tinned variety.
As always with family-friendly food, I suggest seasoning this with a mild hand and serving your own favourite hot sauce on the side. I love the barrel-aged hot sauce from Rebel Chilli. It’s got just the right amount of heat and doesn’t overpower the plump sweet prawns.
1 green pepper, diced
2 onions, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tin chopped tomatoes or 400g chopped fresh tomatoes
2tbs tomato puree
1 bay leaf
600g fresh or frozen prawns
500ml vegetable stock
4 basil leaves, finely sliced
1tsp black pepper
½tsp cayenne pepper
1tbs lemon juice
Wedges of lemon
1 Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the pepper, onion and celery, and saute until soft. Add the crushed garlic and bay leaf along with the tinned tomatoes and puree. Simmer for 20 minutes.
2 Add the prawns and cook for a further 10 minutes.
3 Add the stock, lemon juice, herbs and spices. Simmer for 20 minutes until reduced and thickened. Serve with rice and lemon wedges.