Shrimp Creole: Just in time for Mardi Gras

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Combine the merits of gumbo and jambalaya and you’ll discover Creole. Creole is a sauce made of whole or diced tomatoes combined with chopped onion, celery and bell pepper, and a pepper or cayenne based seasoning. Add cooked shrimp and serve over rice. Creole dishes don’t use broth or a roux to thicken the sauce but depend on simmering to achieve the desired thickness.

I rediscovered this comfort food at a friend’s home this past January. It was a cold day, a high of 38 degrees and the previous day’s snow was still scattered over the grass and flower beds. With a view overlooking an icy inlet of the Chesapeake, it was the perfect dish for a winter’s day, but definitely a February possibility.

Valentine’s Day too: Shrimp and a light tomato sauce served over fluffy white rice, candles, and a glass of wine: all the fix-ins for a Valentine’s Day dinner. Chocolate is optional, but often expected.

shrimp creole 003Creole Shrimp, Ginny, 1972

  • ½ cup minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bay leaf, crushed
  • ¼ cup diced celery
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, minced
  • ½ cup green pepper, chopped
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 ½ cups of water
  • *2 cup cooked shrimp (2-7 oz. cans)

Sauté onion in butter. Blend in rest of ingredients except shrimp. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Stir in shrimp and heat. Serve on hot, cooked rice. Serves 6.

My friend serves green peas and biscuits alongside. No reason, just a family tradition.

*Substitute 1 ½ to 2 lbs. medium shrimp in shells for canned shrimp. Fresh seafood wasn’t always available to the home cook, so canned shrimp was a viable substitute. Today fresh shrimp is available in most places.

Some thoughts on the shrimp

Cleaning shrimp in shells: peel shrimp. Make a shallow cut lengthwise down back of each shrimp; wash out vein. Cover and refrigerate. Betty Crocker, Shrimp Creole recipe, 2015

Shrimp can be cooked ahead of time, grilled or boiled. If you add the raw shrimp to the sauce, simmer for an additional 20 minutes.

Seasoning variations: chili powder, garlic, tabasco sauce, minced garlic, lemon juice or whatever ingredients are available. Creole recipes are the stuff of invention and creativity. It was no accident that I found so many variations in my recipe boxes and vintage cookbooks. Each family appears to have a hand-me-down version.

Creole Sauce, Evelyn 1976, More-with-Less Cookbook

Here’s a recipe that calls for fresh plum tomatoes. A summer sauce when plum tomatoes are abundant.

Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in large skillet.

shrimp creole 001Cook until soft:

  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed


  •             2 cups cooked chopped Italian plum tomatoes
  •             1 bay leaf
  •             pinch dried thyme
  •             ½ teaspoon basil
  •             ¼ teaspoon oregano
  •             1/8 teaspoon celery seed
  •             1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped
  •             1 teaspoon salt
  •             dash of sugar
  •             freshly ground peppers

Cook uncovered over low heat about 1 ½ hours or until sauce is reduced to half. Stir occasionally. During the last 20 minutes of cooking time, add:

  •             1 large sweet pepper, diced.

Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Serve with rice, chicken, beef, port or seafood.

Shrimp Creole, Sandra, All Guild Cookbook, Valley Children’s Hospital, 1970s.

  • 8-10 slices of cooked bacon
  • 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • ½ cup minced green peppers
  • 1 large can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ lbs. cocktail shrimp

Sauté bacon, onions, garlic and green peepers over low heat until tender. Drain off grease. Pour in the stewed tomatoes, add the salt, pepper and chili powder. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the shrimp to the sauce and continue to cook for 20 minutes longer. Serve over steamed rice. Serves 6.

1960s advise for raising children. There’s something to be said about a plate of warm, fresh cookies and a glass of milK.


A house should have a cookie jar

for when it’s half past three

And children hurry home from school

as hungry as can be,

There’s nothing quite so splendid

as spicy, fluffy ginger cakes

and sweet milk in a cup

A house should have a mother

waiting with a hug

No matter what a boy brings home

a puppy or a bug

For children only loiter

when the bell rings to dismiss

If no one’s home to greet them

with a cookie and kiss.


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