Along with seafood gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets, shrimp creole is a signature dish of New Orleans, but I don’t think I’ve ever had two versions there that tasted exactly alike. Carelessly prepared (as it usually is outside the region), shrimp creole can be bland, banal, and downright ghastly, but when made with real care, according to traditional culinary principles, it qualifies as one of the South’s greatest creations. Bottles of filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) are now available almost everywhere, and this unique thickening agent does have a very special flavor. Just make sure to add it off the heat; otherwise, the dish will be offensively stringy.
In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over moderate heat, add the onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook, stirring, till the vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the thyme, fennel, bay leaf, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and clam juice, stir well, return to a simmer, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stir, cover, and cook 15 to 20 minutes longer.
Add the shrimp, stir well, and cook just till the shrimp turn pink, about 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, sprinkle the filé powder over the top, and stir gently till the liquid has thickened.
To serve, spoon about
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.