With Top Chef off the air for the summer, Top Chef Night becomes a bit scattered. Sometimes it’s on Wednesday, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we cook a dish from a random cookbook, sometimes it’s a Top Chef recipe we missed during the previous season. We knew we wanted to cook something from the Top Chef Masters final episode showdown so we chose the shrimp creole from Traci Des Jardins (click here for recipe). It was her childhood memory dish and was widely panned for lacking flavor. We decided to remedy that.
First, we cheated. We used boxed seafood stock instead of making our own. If we’ve got a big ol’ chicken carcass lying around, we’ll make our own stock someday, but it seems silly to buy a whole meal’s worth of ingredients for the sole purpose of boiling something else in it then tossing it. So, boxed seafood stock it was. We did not, however, skimp on the tomato sauce.
We browned the ground pork with some celery, onions, garlic and red pepper (because I don’t like green pepper K reluctantly allowed for the substitution of red). Red wine, tomatoes and tomato paste were added and the liquid reduced, then we added the seafood stock. To prevent the dreaded “not enough seasoning” critique that took down Des Jardins, I added some smoky chipotle powder and a little cayenne pepper to the pot. K started deveining the shrimp (worst job ever) and I cooked some Arborio rice in the rice cooker. After previous rice-on-the-stove debacles, we have agreed to always cook rice and other grain products in the rice cooker. That way, if it doesn’t turn out, we can blame the rice cooker.
We also realized we had cilantro instead of parsley so we made a cilantro coulis by blending the herbs with cold water. It tasted like … cilantro water.
After the sauce had simmered a good deal, K threw the shrimp into the pot and I made little cakes out of the rice, spritzed them with some lemon and crisped them up in a hot pan of butter. K plated everything artfully and we sat down to eat with low expectations.
Boy were we wrong! We’d made some seriously flavorful shrimp creole and messed with surf and turf. The pork was salty and tender, the shrimp popped with each slightly smoky, spicy bite. The crispy, buttery rice cake smoothed everything out and the heat was cooled down by the cilantro puree. We couldn’t stop marveling at how delicious it was. While it invoked childhood memories for neither of us (both of which revolve a lot around Chef Boyardee, Kraft Mac and Cheese and Betty Crocker blueberry muffins) we knew we’d remember the savory shrimp and pork meal and be making it again.
Alterations: We used red pepper instead of green pepper, used boxed seafood stock instead of making our own, added some cayenne pepper and dried chipotle, made cilantro coulis (not parsley) and made our rice in a rice cooker.
Soundtrack: The Replacements. Because it was a Paul Westerberg kind of night.
Would we make this again: Yes. This might just be company food!