Paul Prudhomme, the legendary chef most responsible for the worldwide popularity of Cajun and Creole cuisine, passed away in 2015. In tribute to him, this shrimp Creole recipe and story celebrates his legacy that lives on in the black iron pots of our precious foodways he so dearly loved and helped preserve.
All hail, Chef Paul.
Opelousas, the center of St. Landry Parish, was home to Paul Prudhomme, one of the most beloved figures in Louisiana cooking and I believe his talent and influence have been the key to establishing Cajun and Creole as a significant culinary category. Prudhomme was the master of artfully weaving the simplest ingredients and elevating them through layering of flavors. And his recipe for Louisiana Shrimp Creole is a prime example.
In my book, he is the undisputed “King of South Louisiana Cooking.”
I met Chef Paul in the 1980s at the Acadiana Culinary Classic, an annual competitive showcase of South Louisiana cooking talent. I instantly became a fan. He came onto the culinary scene swiftly as head chef of New Orleans’ restaurant Commander’s Palace and soon became an icon of Louisiana cooking. He essentially defined Cajun and Creole cuisine to the world and paved the way for many Louisiana chefs to follow.
I first made an adaptation of Prudhomme’s recipe for Louisiana Shrimp Creole over twenty years ago, and I haven’t sampled a more balanced and flavorful interpretation of this classic. I’ve tinkered with the original in ways that stay true to his philosophy yet aspires to an even greater flavor profile.
There are several keys to this Louisiana Shrimp Creole built on Prudhomme’s foundation of briny Louisiana Gulf shrimp, a pungent shrimp stock and light brown roux. From there, layers of sautéed vegetables and peppery spices add structure that when combined with the sweet acidity of the ripe tomatoes, meld to create a rich Creole depth of flavor.
I believe Chef Paul would be proud of the results.
- 3 pounds jumbo (8/10 count) shrimp, shell and head on
- 1 cup dried shrimp
- 4 tablespoons bacon fat
- 4 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 cups diced onions
- 2 cups diced celery
- 1 cup diced green bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups chopped peeled tomatoes
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ cup tomato paste
- Dash of hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 4 cups cooked Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- Remove the shells and heads from the shrimp, leaving the tail on.
- To make the shrimp stock, add the heads, along with any shrimp fat and all shells to a pot containing 8 cups of water. Add the dried shrimp to the pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour. Strain the shrimp stock discarding the dried shrimp and shells. Continue boiling the stock until you have reduced by half to 4 cups of intense shrimp stock.
- In a large cast-iron pot over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons of bacon fat and an equal amount of flour. Stir the roux until light brown in color with a nutty aroma. Add the diced onions, celery, and bell pepper to the roux, and continue stirring until the vegetables begin to caramelize and turn brown.
- Add the garlic, bay leaf, herbs, spices, and half of the stock. Stir to mix well, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, and sugar. Add the tomato paste — it gives the dish a depth of flavor mere tomatoes and sauce will never achieve. Stir and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Check the dish for flavor and thickness. Add more of the reserved shrimp stock to thin it out to a bisque-like consistency. Add hot sauce to your desired spiciness. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
- At this point, you have two choices: you can refrigerate and serve later, or you can add the shrimp and continue cooking until the shrimp are just done and not overcooked, about 10 minutes. As the shrimp are cooking, add the butter and stir to create a rich sheen.
- It is important to serve this dish immediately since letting the shrimp sit in the hot Creole gravy will render them tough in no time at all.
- Serve over a mound of white rice and garnish with green onion tops. Serve hot sauce on the side for extra kick.
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