Beloved Creole dishes fuel lifetimes in New Orleans with diehards sticking to red beans on Monday and gumbo on Friday. Nevertheless, population shifts find adventurous diners and cooks loving the influences of foreign cuisines.
Not the least of these are Mexican/Latin flavors finding their way into kitchens with dishes beyond tacos. Behind this is a growing Central American population boosting numbers of ethnic restaurants and the markets to match.
I’m loving it because I recall times when cilantro and fresh chiles were nowhere to be found. Now, they are everywhere, and the increasing number of Latin grocery stores provide much more. What’s new is that restaurants are matching local ingredients with Latin recipes. Red snapper and shrimp are easy to adapt, and sausages and spices merge well.
The theory at Nolé Cuisine de las Americas, a recently opened Mexican/Latin restaurant on St. Charles Avenue, is that New Orleans and Latin American countries celebrate similar cultures of food, festivals and music.
“The biggest thing is incorporating Latin American with Creole flavors,” concept chef Chris Lusk said of trends occurring at Nolé. As concept chef, Lusk creates the restaurant’s recipes including such menu temptations as corn-fried oyster tacos, cochon du lait paella, and chorizo and andouille queso. Jicama and Mexican crema accompany crispy catfish, and corn on the cob is rolled in blue crab mornay.
At least a dozen other Cuban, Venezuelan and other Latin American restaurants have opened in the New Orleans area in the last few years, each with their own twist on the often-spicy cuisines.
Barbecued shrimp is one of my favorite local dishes although it has nothing to do with outdoor grills. Like most locals, I cook mine in the oven with butter, loads of garlic, liquid hickory smoke and other seasonings. Next to the shrimp, the most important ingredient, in my opinion, is the fat in the shrimp heads.
Lusk’s take on this New Orleans favorite intrigued me. He peels the shrimp but makes the stock from the shrimp heads. He uses a Mexican beer along with cilantro and chile peppers for a Latin twist. The following recipe is an adaptation using easily found ingredients.
Creole-Latin Barbecued Shrimp
2 ½ pounds large shrimp, heads-on
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chipotle salsa, or to taste*
1 ½ cups shrimp stock
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 cup Modelo Especial beer
½ cup heavy cream, warm
1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¾ tablespoon Creole seasoning
4 tablespoons butter
Grits, cooked, French bread or soft flour tortillas for serving
1. Peel and devein shrimp. Set shrimp aside. In a medium pot, cover peelings and heads with water, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and save stock. Discard peelings and heads.
2. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Sauté garlic for a minute, and add oregano, chipotle salsa, shrimp stock, lime juice and beer. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
3. Stir in heavy cream and simmer, whisking frequently, for simmer for 2 minutes. Add cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
4. Season shrimp with Creole seasoning and sauté in butter in a medium skillet, turning, until they turn pink, about 1 minute. Add to the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes. Serve hot in bowls with grits or with French bread or soft flour tortillas, rolled up for dipping. Serves 4 to 6.
*I used part of a 7-ounce can of San Marcos chipotle salsa with much left over for another use. Other variations of hot pepper sauces could be used, such as chipotles in adobo sauce, which is also very hot.
Latin America’s cuisine has similar influences to south Louisiana’s – native American, French, Spanish and Caribbean. Portuguese also played a major role. Tropical fruits and fish are a mainstay of Latin diets, and corn tortillas and beans are traced back to the early Mayans and Aztecs.