No sooner have we finished the Christmas holiday than the celebrators among us start planning for New Year's. The older I get, the less interested I am in a late night out on the Eve, but a couple of the best New Year's experiences I can recall involved a pleasant dinner with friends on the 31st and an afternoon feast on New Year's Day.
In both cases, shrimp was the main course.
The memorable New Year's Eve involved good conversation around a dining room table where we peeled our own shrimp. The other notable meal was a buffet on New Year's Day about 30 years ago, where the main attraction was Creole Shrimp. This meal occurred when I was living on the West Coast; at that time, Midwestern supermarkets did not carry fresh seafood, and the shellfish that was sold in Kansas was frozen beyond recognition.
It took me awhile after going to California to get used to the idea that seafood of consistently reliable quality could be eaten day in and day out. The Creole Shrimp feast was a milestone in my understanding that I could like meat that didn't start out with hooves or feathers.
The following recipe is of the same vintage, and it hews pretty closely to my memory of the Creole Shrimp I ate in California. It is from a 1975 cookbook called "Cooking Fish and Shellfish" by Ruth Spear. This recipe feeds 25, but it can be halved. It also can be assembled in advance, up to the point of adding the shrimp.
The recipe suggests using a large skillet, but a stockpot or Dutch oven may be more appropriate.
The dish should be served with rice and a crusty bread.
9 slices bacon
3 cups chopped onions (about 10 medium)
6 green peppers, seeded and chopped
4 quarts canned whole tomatoes, drained, lightly chopped, liquid reserved
3 6-ounce cans tomato paste
4 cups diced celery
6-8 cloves garlic
5 teaspoons sugar
10 teaspoons salt
5 teaspoons dried thyme
3 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
4 bay leaves
10 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
Cut the bacon roughly into half-inch squares with kitchen scissors. Fry in a large skillet until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and reserve. Add an appropriate amount of olive oil to the bacon drippings in the pan; saute the onions until wilted. Add the peppers, and cook gently for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and celery, press in the garlic, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Add the sugar, salt, thyme, Tabasco and bay leaves. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Correct the seasoning. (The recipe may be prepared ahead to this point.)
If the sauce appears too thick, thin to desired consistency with some of the reserved tomato liquid. Add the shrimp, bring to a simmer, and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the shrimp just turn pink. It is very important not to overcook the shrimp or they will become mealy.
Top with the reserved bacon, crumbled. Serve immediately with hot steamed rice.