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  • Writer's pictureTommy Centola

Creole flavor in the kitchen

Whenever I tell people I am a chef from New Orleans, they instantly remark that I am a Cajun. That is far from the truth. Cajuns are people who left Nova Scotia and settled in the bayous in Southern Central Louisiana. I was born and raised in the city of New Orleans. My cooking style is more Creole than Cajun.

What’s the difference? Cajun food is more rustic and spicy, while Creole is refined and tasty. Creoles in New Orleans have the benefit of getting ingredients that are not indigenous to the local area, while Cajuns often cook with ingredients they grow or can catch. Also a difference is the use of tomatoes while cooking. The Cajuns did not have access to tomatoes, while Creoles were able to get canned tomatoes through the port of New Orleans.

These are just a few of the differences between Creole and Cajun food. Fortunately, the two cuisines often mimic each other. It is easy to see why people from New Orleans are often referred to as Cajuns.

Now, today’s recipes. Here are two Creole classics: Shrimp Creole and Turtle Soup. They are both great examples of refined Creole cooking.

If you have heard of only one Creole dish, it is probably Shrimp Creole. This cliché dish is found on restaurant menus around New Orleans. This is a dish most often ordered by tourists, looking for a taste of Creole cooking. One of my favorite uses of Shrimp Creole is as a sauce over fried Catfish. I introduced this dish at Cannon’s restaurant as a Friday special. It became one of the best selling specials at the restaurant.

Shrimp Creole

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

¼ cup green onions, chopped

1 small green bell pepper, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 dash cayenne pepper

1 dash thyme

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning

2 bay leaves

1 can (14.5 ounce) whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed

3 ounces tomato paste

3 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Cooked rice

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions, celery, green onions, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, cayenne, Creole seasoning, and bay leaves for a few minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 15 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over cooked rice.

More often than not, turtle soup does not contain turtle meat. Ground beef, veal or alligator are often used as a substitute. The main focus of the dish is not the meat but the flavor. If a restaurant offers this Creole dish, you can be assured that it is going to taste great.

Turtle Soup

1½ pound turtle meat

2 ¾ teaspoons salt

¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper

6 cups water

1 stick butter

½ cup flour

11/2 cups onions, chopped

¼ cup green bell pepper, chopped

¼ cup celery, chopped

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon dry thyme

1½ tablespoons garlic

1 cup tomatoes, chopped

½ cup Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup dry sherry

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

½ cup green onions, chopped

Place the turtle meat in a large saucepan with 1 teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon cayenne and the water. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a platter. Cut the meat into ½ inch dice and reserve the liquid. In another large saucepan, combine the butter and flour over medium heat, stirring constantly for 6-8 minutes to make a dark roux. Add the onions, bell peppers and celery. Stir occasionally and cook 2-3 minutes until the vegetables are slightly tender. Add the bay leave, thyme and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the turtle meat. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the remaining salt and cayenne, the turtle stock, lemon juice, and sherry. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the parsley and the green onions and simmer for 45 minutes.

Next time you want to eat New Orleans cooking, search out some Creole food. I know that many people do not like spicy food. Creole food is more about the flavor than the heat level. While I often cook Cajun style dishes, my dishes are more Creole. Experience both cuisines.

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