Today is 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.
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.
As for me, I’m taking the day off. I will put on my furry cat ears and paint whiskers on my face, click on my New Orleans and Carnival music playlist and make 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.
Now, thanks to another generation picking up the mantle, Lil Dizzy’s was slated to reopen 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 favorite spot, if the gods smile on us, 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. (It is an ideal dish as we move into the Lent, when some observant Christians abstain from meat, especially on Fridays.)
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.
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 2 days.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large white or yellow onion (about 11 ounces), diced
- 1 medium green bell pepper (about 5 ounces), diced
- 3 large celery ribs, diced
- 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt diced tomatoes with their juice
- 1 cup seafood broth, no-salt-added chicken broth or water, or more as needed
- 1/4 cup tomato sauce
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning, store-bought or see related recipe (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme fresh
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt, or more as needed
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
- 2 pounds peeled, deveined medium shrimp (41-50 count), thawed if frozen
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving, if desired
- 2 cups cooked white or brown rice, for serving
- Chopped scallions, for serving (optional)
- Hot sauce, for serving (optional)
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, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, 6 to 8 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, 3 to 4 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, if desired, 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.
Calories: 264; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 242 mg; Sodium: 849 mg; Carbohydrates: 13 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 6 g; Protein: 27 g.
Adapted from “The Baquet Family Cookbook” by Wayne Baquet (Eddie’s Restaurant, 2009).