Houston being so close to the border with Louisiana, my exposure to Creole and Cajun food was as routine as BBQ, Tex Mex, or Southern cuisine on our weekly dinner lineup. The flavors are as intense as any, and uniquely American in origin.
Creole/Cajun and the Casket Girls
There is an interesting story about how this cuisine was started in Alabama and later moved to Louisiana. Alabama and Louisiana were both French colonies, as most people know. The first settlers were generally frontiersmen seeking a chance at wealth, independence and freedom from the old European land owners. Once the area was well established, the then governor, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville (also known as Sieur de Bienville) wanted the colony to grow, so he advertised for unattached French women to join them in the new world. A group of eligible women called “filles à la casette” or (casket girls) were women of modest means who arrived with what little they had in small chests (which is where the term originates). They were quickly married and settled down. After a few weeks in the new colony the women revolted over the cuisine their husbands served them. Being from France they were used to goose, rabbit, chicken, more traditional fare. What they were not used to was blue crab, jumbo shrimp, corn and okra. Fearing that the girls would head back to France, Governor Sieur de Bienville asked his housekeeper Madame Langlois to teach the women how to cook the indigenous food as she had learned from the native Americans. The “casket girls” learned how to prepare and enjoy the regional cuisine and the revolt ended. She showed them how to mix their French cooking techniques with what was available locally. After a few years, Governor Sieur de Bienville along with Madame Langlois in tow, founded the city of New Orleans in 1718. Undoubtedly Madame Langlois continued to teach her new cooking techniques until her style became the standard that we all now know as Creole (city) and Cajun (country/rural) cuisine.
Creamy Shrimp Creole Topping
- 4 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp oil I use grapeseed
- 1 cup green bell pepper diced
- 1 cup celery diced
- 1 cup onion diced
- 2 garlic clove minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 ½ tsp thyme
- 1 tsp oregano
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1 lb shrimp shelled, deveined and chopped
- 4 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 4 tsp Tabasco style hot sauce
- salt and black pepper to taste
- ½ cup shrimp stock
- 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water thickening agent
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 3 scallions sliced thin for garnish
- 2 tbsp parsley chopped for garnish
- Chop the onions, celery, green bell pepper, and mince the garlic.
- In a hot pan add the butter, oil and bring up to temperature.
- To the pan, add the chopped vegetables and the garlic. Sauté for 4-5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. To this add the bay leaf, thyme, oregano, paprika. Stir in and cook for an additional minute or two.
- Deglaze with the white wine and cook until almost all the wine has evaporated.
- To the mixture, add the chopped shrimp, Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco style hot sauce and shrimp stock. Bring the mixture to a low boil and add the cornstarch slurry (thickening agent) and stir in.
- Reduce heat to medium low and add the heavy cream. You may need to add some additional cornstarch slurry due to the amount of shrimp and vegetable water content. If you need to, add it slowly and let it thicken to desired thickness before adding more.
Blackened Halibut with Creamy Shrimp Creole
- 1/2 lbs Butter, clarified To clarify butter melt the butter in a saucepan. Skim off milk solids and pour off only the clear yellow butter.
- 1/2 cup Blackening Seasoning
- 2 6 oz Halibut fillet
- 2/3 cup Creamy Shrimp Creole Topping Recipe top of page
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Use two pie pans or two shallow containers. In one pan place the warm clarified butter. In the other, add the dry blackening seasoning mix.
- Take one fillet at a time and dip into the clarified butter. (In these photos, I'm only dipping one side into the seasoning mix because of the thickness of the halibut fillets. You can, if you wish, dip both sides into the butter and seasoning mix for a more robust seasoning flavor.)
- Turn on the overhead vent for your stove. If you don't have one, you may want to do this outside over a camping stove because it can create a lot of smoke.
- Get a dry heavy cast iron pan super hot until smoking. DO NOT ADD OIL to the pan as it will catch fire!
- Without losing any of the seasoning, add the fish to the hot pan seasoning side down. The combination of the cold fish and the clarified butter will cause the fish to almost float over the high heat of the pan without sticking.
- Cook the fish until the seasoning is slightly charred black in spots. At this point I gently flip the fish and place it in a cooking dish with a little butter, white wine and lemon juice.
- Place the fish into the oven at 400 degrees to finish cooking the halibut all the way through...about 8-10 minutes in this case. Check with a meat thermometer until the fish has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees.