Jan 6, 2010

Trashy Shrimp

If you've been reading for a while, you know by now that Cajuns are experts at reusing.  Cajuns are resourceful and good at making do with what they have, especially finding new ways to use things that are lying around.  Old school Cajuns throw very little away. 

Forget that fancy schmancy HGTV "repurposing."  We don't repurpose; we use dat ting like dis instead, cher.

A bent kitchen spoon and an old broom handle may seem like trash, but tie the spoon to the broom handle, and you've got yourself a great tool for scooping up pecans.

The tines of old hay rakes are turned into 'Tit fers, or triangles, used to make music and pass a good time.

My parents never throw away milk jugs and cartons.

My dad saves plastic milk jugs, washes them out, cuts off the bottoms, and uses them to protect newly transplanted tomato and pepper plants.

And they know, along with many others in S. Louisiana, that those waxy cardboard milk cartons aren't trash and should never be thrown out.  Dat's good for sometin', yeah.  My mom opened up the tops of those cartons, washed them "real good," and saved them for shrimp season. 

We went shrimping (trawling) in Lake Pontchartrain now and then, and I loved it.  It was always exciting waiting for my dad to open the net so we could see what was inside.  Shrimp, yes, but there were other more mysterious and even dangerous things to find.  My dad built a box...our "picka box" that fit across the bow of the boat and had a little door on one end that could be raised for sweeping out the trash.  He'd dump the catch in the picka box and set us kids to work picking through everything.  Being Lake Pontchartrain, we definitely found non-seafood--like shoes, toothbrushes, and beer bottles.  But there were also miscellaneous minnows and other small fish to examine.  I was especially fond of the cute little puffer fish that looked like tiny balloons mixed in with the shrimp.  My least favorite thing to find were the oyster fish, with their powerful teeth and jaws...powerful enough to crack open oysters.  They, according to my dad, could "bite ya face off" if you got too close  (but my dad also says this about alligators, snapping turtles, and gar fish).  The possibility of oyster fish was why we were always armed with several tools.  But when we found one, we mostly just yelled for my dad instead.

We'd go home and all sit around the picnic table on the patio, cleaning shrimp and swatting mosquitos until way too late at night.  All those milk cartons my mom saved were filled with shrimp and water, sealed with heavy duty tape, and stored in the freezer. 

Yep, we packaged shrimp in our trash.  How's that for trash to treasure?

The two shrimp dishes I remember eating the most were beer battered fried shrimp that my mom would fry up in her cast iron pot and Shrimp Creole, a true South Louisiana creation.

Mise en place for Shrimp Creole: flour and oil for the roux, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic--standard Cajun & Creole seasonings, tomato paste and diced tomatoes OR ro-tel tomatoes, shrimp stock (or water if you have to), bay leaf, salt, black and red pepper, Creole seasoning, hot sauce, parsley or green onion, cooked white rice.

I like to keep an extra can or two of tomato sauce around to add if needed.
This looks like a lot to deal with, but once you get everything in the pot, it pretty much cooks itself. 
The first step is to chop everything.  It absolutely has to be ready before the roux is ready.  Everything can be chopped the day before if needed.

Heat oil in a large pot.  Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is a coppery color--a little darker than peanut butter or caramel.  Click to see how to make a good Louisiana roux.  It's what all the cool kids are doing. 

When your roux is the color you'd like, quickly add the chopped vegetables to cool it down.  Cook the vegetables in the roux, stirring now and then, for about 20 minutes or until tender.
Note the color of the roux when the vegetables were added.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes or Ro-tel tomatoes, seasonings, and shrimp stock.  Water can be used, but trust me, if you can make yourself some shrimp stock...do it yesterday.  Your Shrimp Creole will be better because of it.  Here's how I make my shrimp stock (nothing fancy at all, cheap because it's made from things I don't throw away, and smells heavenly).

Stir everything together, cover, and simmer for an hour so the flavors come together.  Stir when you think about it.

After an hour, the sauce should be thickened.  If it is too thick, more stock, water, or even tomato sauce can be added.  Now is the time to taste and make sure you have the seasonings right.  Keep in mind that this goes over rice and the rice will reduce the potency.  My rule of thumb is that if the seasonings are perfect at this stage, I add more because of the rice.
Also-sometimes I add either a little bit of sugar or lemon juice to reduce or increase the acidity.

Add the shrimp, stir, and simmer for about 15 minutes until the shrimp are cooked through.

Looks good to me.  Don't forget to take out the bay leaf.

Serve it up over cooked white rice and top with chopped parsley or green onion (or both).

Shrimp Creole
from Ms. enPlace

4 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 Tbsp flour
1 medium onion, chopped
½ medium to large bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery (leaves included), chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (or ro-tel if you like spicy)
2 c shrimp stock or water
1 bay leaf
about 1 tsp salt, or to taste
½ tsp black pepper, or to taste
½ tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
few dashes hot sauce
Creole seasoning to taste
1 ½ lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
cooked rice
chopped parsley or green onion for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot. Do not use non-stick. Add the flour and make a roux by stirring constantly. When roux is a coppery color, add the chopped vegetables and cook for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Stir frequently while cooking.

Add tomato paste and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the diced tomatoes with liquid, shrimp stock, and seasonings. Stir to combine. Simmer on low, covered, for about 1 hour. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Remember that this will be served over cooked rice, so if the seasonings are perfect you may want to add a little more. Also, if the sauce is too thick, more stock or water can be added as needed.

Stir in the shrimp and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until shrimp are cooked through. Do not overcook. Serve over cooked white rice, topped with parsley or green onions.

Sugar or lemon juice can be added to either counteract or add acidity.

Shrimp Creole freezes well, but do not boil when reheating or the shrimp will be tough.


  1. I love your story.....
    and the shrimp sounds good too!

  2. As always, I loved reading your story. The title trashy shrimp really caught my attention. You really have me curious about these oyster fish. I've never heard of them or seen one, but they sound kinda scary. I love shrimp creole and I like your tip about adding extra spices.

  3. Anonymous1/12/2010

    I usually just buy a bag of Louisiana brand Shrimp Creole mix, but your recipe sounds (and LOOKS!) so yummy! I'm going to have to try my hand at making it from scratch! My Cajun hubby will be so excited!

  4. Love your step-by-step photos! This looks delicious!

  5. Just tried it. Absolutely loved it! Made one little change and added a splash of worchestershire and xtra hot sauce. Yum. Will b making this again for sure. Loved your story too. Just wondering about the oyster fish though. They must b called something else cause I didn't see them when I googled it.

  6. Thanks for trying it, Sarah. Another common name for oyster fish is oyster toadfish. They do have a toady look to them.

  7. I love reading your blog and your recipes look delicious! Glad I stopped by from All My Bloggy Friends link-up. New follower on GFC ~Lynn H @ Turnips 2 Tangerines~Enjoy Your Day~


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