Q: Do you know where I can get shrimp creole? There used to be a restaurant here that served it, but I don’t know who’s making it now.
A: Even though shrimp creole sounds more like a dish from Louisiana than the Lowcountry, it has at least half a century’s worth of history here: Charleston Receipts in 1950 printed a shrimp creole recipe attributed to Alabama’s Brewton Inn.
The only so-named hotel remaining in Brewton, Ala. today is a Best Western, which means there’s no easy way to determine if the reprinted recipe was faithful to the original, but it’s short a few hallmarks of Cajun cooking. For example, the only seasoning listed other than “salt and pepper to taste” is a teaspoon of sugar; when Nathalie Dupree in 2009 reworked the recipe for The Post and Courier, she added two garlic cloves. Emeril Lagasse’s shrimp creole, which recently turned up on Food & Wine’s list of its all-time best recipes, requires five cloves of garlic, plus hot paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and hot sauce.
But seasoning choices aside, shrimp creole is a tomato-rich shrimp dish, built upon the holy trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery. And until very recently, it was served at Blues Cajun Kitchen.
Then in July, the James Island restaurant closed for renovations: Spokeswoman Angela Easterby-Smith wouldn’t say when it might reopen. In the meantime, sister restaurant Gillie’s Soul Food has inherited a few of Blues’ dishes, including jambalaya and gumbo, but shrimp creole isn’t among them. Nor is it likely to make the menu at owner Sean Mendes’ forthcoming Pluff Mud Seafood Shack on Johns Island, perhaps for the reasons cited by Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill.
“We don't really do shrimp creole anymore,” Stehling says. “At some point over the years, it morphed into mostly a braised beef or sometimes catfish creole. There were just too many shrimp dishes on our menu: Shrimp-and-grits, etouffee, Lowcountry curry.”
With so many shrimp dishes to entice customers, Stehling says, the creole never sold well.
“It's kind of a Southern ‘mother’ sauce, but I don't think of it as site-specific as some of the other more Lowcountry dishes,” he continues.
Yet shrimp creole is still available at LoLA in Park Circle. And while it’s likely not as sweet as the traditional Charleston interpretation, it comes with a hunk of praline cornbread.