Friday, October 12, 2007

Going to the doctor sucks.... Now what's for dinner?

I spent Wednesday morning at the doctor's office seeking a final definitive explanation for my now month-long respiratory and sinus infection which culminated last weekend in a very painful case of swollen tonsils. I made the appointment on Monday and... as is always the case... by the time I got to see the doctor on Wednesday, my symptoms had either abated altogether or gone into remission. So I ended up getting a lot of doctorspeak for "There's nothing wrong with you, why are you wasting my time?", a flu shot I didn't need, and.... well... the rest of the day off. So far I'm still feeling fine, but I have no comforting pills to take so we'll see. The important thing is, my appointment was butt-early in the morning so upon my release, I had the entire day to work with. I decided to do the one thing that comes the most natural to me. I went grocery shopping.

A&P (particularly its Sav-A-Center brand) has been the dominant grocer in New Orleans for over a decade now but, as many of you are doubtless aware, the company is pulling out of town in a national restructuring move which A&P says will allow it to concentrate solely on the Northeast.

After a few months of speculation and worry, the 17 New Orleans area Sav-A-Centers were eventually sold to Thibodaux based Rouse's. This should be a happy result for area shoppers who anticipate dealing with a Louisiana-grown company that highlights local products. I know I'm happy since even in my dreadful penmanship, "Rouse's" is much more easily distinguished from "ATM" than is "A&P" when one is balancing a checkbook. Rouse's is taking over operations of the stores this month. Wednesday, they opened the Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas location for the first time. I had to check it out.

So far all I can say is eh. Rouse's has added it's in-house line of stuff to the shelves. They make a lot of their own products from sausage to pepper jelly to olive salad. There was definitely more boudin in the store than A&P used to carry but that's about all I noticed. Of course, it's their first day.

I can be a pain to shop with so it's best that I go alone. I'm usually at the grocery to plan a meal but often have no idea what that meal might be until I have made at least three full laps around the store staring at the food until something comes to me. Upon my sixth or seventh trip around Rouse's I settled on a classic shrimp creole for the following reasons. First, it's not something I've done a lot of before but the recipe is fairly basic. Second, I had all day to make a good stock. Third, it seemed like something I could photograph and post on the internet. So after picking up mostly produce at Rouse's, I stopped by The Big Fisherman for two pounds of shrimp and spent the rest of the day in the kitchen.

Shrimp Creole:
This is an old-timey New Orleans dish that you really don't see too much of anymore outside of the occasional special at your neighborhood dive. My folks didn't care for it so my first experience with it was in school cafeterias. If I had to explain it to someone who had no idea I'd say the basic concept is like making a gumbo... without any roux... or okra.... oh and with lots of tomatoes. Oh... well... just watch.

I've already said that I chose this dish because there was a lot of time available to make a proper seafood stock. Of course you can build a shrimp creole using water instead of stock but the result will taste much less like shrimp which would be somewhat beside the point.

First, grab hold of your recently purchased, fresh (with the heads on and all that) Louisiana swimps, place them in the sink and photograph them.

Peel and devein (remove the poop from) the shrimp. Place the heads and shells in a medium sized pot. Put the peeled shrimp back in the refrigerator. You won't need them again until waaay later.

Cover the heads and shells with water. Add some of your favorite soup vegetables (Here we have Onion, garlic, and celery)

Sprinkle liberally with black pepper, some Chacheres or other Creole seasoning, oh and a drop or two of this. Bring the pot to a boil then turn the heat way down and let it simmer. And keep letting it simmer. All day if you can, or at least for a few hours. I gave mine four.

In the meantime, you'll just have to find something to do. You can feed the cat, run an errand or two, vacuum maybe... oh alright how about this:

  • Go to the fridge and grab that package of pickled pork tips you bought at Sav A Center Rouse's on a whim.

    Hack them up, throw them into that old blue green pot and brown them until you get some of the fat to render in the pot.

  • Once that gets going, you can chop up your collared greens, and throw them on top.

  • Cover.

    Let the greens cook down for about ten minutes, then add some herbs (marjoram, thyme) some Chachere's, and some chopped onion. Try to avoid too much salt. There is usually plenty of salt in this already. In fact, you may try adding some sugar just to cut it a bit. You can let these cook on low for as long as you like but they should go for at least an hour. Still need something to do in the meantime? Eh go check your email or something.

Okay so your greens are simmering, and your stock is about ready. Time to start putting the Creole sauce together. First, you'll need some fat. Now you can start with butter if you like. You'll certainly use some later. I suppose you could also get this going with vegetable oil. But I said at the beginning that this is an old-timey dish and in old-timey dishes at my house the best cooking fat is usually rendered from bacon.

Slice your bacon into one inch strips and distribute them at the bottom of a medium-large sized pot.

Turn on the fire and let the fat start to melt. Once it looks like you've got something going there, throw in about a half a cup of chopped onions. Continue to cook this until the onions start to caramelize... almost ten minutes probably. This smoky, greasy, sweet and pungent mixture will form the base of your sauce.

To this, add your usual creole aromatic trinity of chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper. I've embellished mine with garlic (because I always do) and red bell pepper (because it should add a little more sweetness).

Put it in the pot with about a half stick of butter and let it cook down. Really, give it some time. Let those peppers soften. While that's happening you can start adding your seasonings. These will include:



Salt, pepper, dried basil, and white pepper. (learn to love white pepper, btw... it improves your life)

And a generous dousing of your favorite hot sauce. (I used the one on the left because it was open)

Okay so I trust that you've let this cook for a while. Go ahead and add about a cup of your seafood stock. And let it cook a little more. I said let it cook dammit! Here, you can chop some parsley in the meantime.

The parsley goes in the pot. Now, the main component of this sauce is tomatoes. You should have at least four on hand.

Right. But you need to chop them. Get that done and throw them in the pot. Done? let me see.

Okay. Now you're going to want the tomatoes to cook all the way down. This could take another ten or fifteen minutes. When you're satisfied with that, you can add a can of tomato sauce (and a little more butter probably) to give it some thickness.

Now add another two cups or so of your stock, some sugar, and maybe some more of your dry seasonings. And if you happen to have some fresh basil on hand, rip up a few leaves and throw that in too. After a few more minutes you should have something that looks like this.

That looks about right. I think we can put some shrimp in that now. Where did we put... oh there they are.

Slip the shrimp into the sauce and let it simmer another ten minutes or so just enough to cook them. Serve this over a mound of white rice and... What? How do I cook my rice? Dude, don't make me smack you.

Now take one more crappy photograph for your crappy website and have at it. And don't say I never taught you anything.

1 comment:

hopitoulas said...

This the best, really the only acceptable, recipe for shrimp creole I've ever seen.