Each year on Ash Wednesday, across New Orleans and the rest of south Louisiana, Catholics (which culturally means everybody, no matter where they go to church, or don’t) start replacing the meat in their diets with seafood. Happily, across New Orleans and the rest of South Louisiana, all the seafood is Catholic too.
We’re just kidding about that last, of course. But it does point out the sheer, unabashed “Catholic-ness” of the Big Switch – from the excess of Carnival leading up to Mardi Gras to the presumed penitential austerity that arrives with Lent. The season of “giving up” just happens to have most of Louisiana’s best culinary inventions front and center
That is the joke, of course – though exactly WHO the Creoles of New Orleans and the Cajuns of the countryside think they are playing a joke on remains to be seen. Since most are faithful enough to not think they are putting one over on God, most seem to embrace a diet of seafood for 40 days and 40 nights as one of life’s happy ironies – the opposite of the guy who wins the Powerball and then gets run over by a bus.
Though some seafoods have actual regulated seasons – especially shrimp, each year’s dates an ongoing conversation between marine biologists and Mother Nature – most have a way of turning up sometime between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Fish, of course, can be caught, bought and enjoyed all year-round. But oysters can be had during Lent too (since only the summer months don’t have r’s in them, if you follow the old wives’ tale) and so, almost always, can crawfish.
We plan to offer an entire column on crawfish in the weeks ahead, but there is no official “crawfish season.” In addition to the farm-raised crawfish that never leave the stores (especially frozen), temperatures and rainfall usually conspire along the south Louisiana bayous to produce crawfish of a big-enough size and a small-enough price to play a role in menu rotations. And that’s not even counting crawfish boils.
Fact is, even if the Pope himself declared eating seafood a mortal sin, we doubt Creoles and Cajuns would even slow down. Shrimp in particular are available fresh in season plus IQF (individually quick frozen, at sea) the rest of the year. And that brings us to our version of one of the best south Louisiana dishes – which the Cajuns tend to call Shrimp Sauce Piquant and the Creoles invariably call Shrimp Creole.
In New Orleans, every version of Creole prefers the name – since the French word creole began as the Spanish word criollo, while the basic recipe for shrimp stew undeniably comes from West Africa. Shrimp Creole, like gumbo, is a kind of local history lesson served for dinner. Since Cajun food (despite some disagreement on this) is more purely oldtime French, any reference to things being Creole gets papered over by the simple French phrase for spicy sauce, “sauce piquant.”
Some cooks start Shrimp Creole by making a roux, cooking flour in some fat (usually vegetable oil). We don’t think those calories are necessary here, so we start with seasoning vegetables and a mix of butter and olive oil. During this Lenten season, we say let the shrimp speak for themselves. We are making this big huge sacrifice, after all.
HATCH CHILE PINEAPPLE SHRIMP CREOLE
Sure, you can find a lot of Shrimp Creole recipes using some combination of fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. But in our search for new ways to help you enjoy our products, we’ve discovered that using our Hatch Chile Pineapple Salsa instead makes a better, chunkier and slightly sweeter Shrimp Creole than we ever tasted.
1 tablespoon butter
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon pepper
1 jar Fischer & Wieser’s Hatch Chile Pineapple Salsa
½ cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pound peeled and deveined small-medium shrimp
Steamed white rice
Chopped green onions
In a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, melt the butter with the olive oil. Stir in the Creole/Cajun Holy Trinity (onion, bell pepper and celery), cooking until wilted and just turning golden, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic for only 1 minute, being careful not to let it burn. Season with Creole seasoning and lemon pepper. Add the salsa, broth and lemon juice, bringing to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook just until pink, about 5 minutes – do not overcooked. Sauce will thicken while the shrimp are cooking. Serve over white rice garnished with green onion. Serves 4-6.