Why has sauce piquante, a south Louisiana favorite, managed to escape mainstream American attention? Almost 30 years after Cajun cooking burst onto the national food scene, gumbos, jambalayas, and etouffees populate restaurant menus from California to Connecticut. Yet the humble sauce piquante, a long-cooked, spicy stew, remains firmly in the realm of home cooking, church suppers, lunch-only cafes, and hunting camp kitchens. The thick, tomato-enriched dish frequently features alligator, venison, rabbit, seafood, or an old hen. Many old-fashioned Cajun cooks assert that strongly flavored meats are best prepared in a sauce piquante, as the tomatoes’ acidity & long cooking tames their wild flavors & texture.
I cooked shrimp sauce piquante this weekend, spurred on by a gift of 16-20 shrimp, cool, rainy, weather, and a growing sense that hurricane season has passed us by this year (which means I can fill my freezer without worrying about long power outages & spoiled or wasted food). The dish begins, unsurprisingly for Cajun cooking, with a medium roux, chopped onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. (Yes, I admit that 68.35% of my home cooking begins the same way. That’s what it means to have food traditions, dammit.) Once the vegetables soften, the cook adds chopped tomatoes (or canned, crushed tomatoes), a bit of tomato sauce, and spices. The sauce simmers until it thickens (about 45 minutes), and the protein of choice goes into the pot to cook gently until tender.
Shrimp sauce piquante
- 1/2 cup peanut oil
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
- 1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
- 3/4 cup celery, very finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes or equivalent amount fresh tomatoes, diced
- 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp ground thyme, or 1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 or 3 fresh jalapenos, seeded & finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 lbs medium to large shrimp, peeled & deveined
- 1 bunch parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
- 1 bunches green onions, white & green parts, thinly sliced
- additional salt & cayenne pepper, to taste
In a heavy 6-quart pot, heat oil over medium-high. When a pinch of flour dropped into the oil sizzles on contact, add the flour, whisking to combine. Reduce heat slightly and cook the flour/oil mixture, stirring constantly, until it reaches the color of a new penny. Immediately stir in chopped onions; cook until onions begin to brown, then add bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften. Next, add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, bay leaves, thyme, nutmeg, allspice, salt, fresh jalapenos, and cayenne. Stir to combine. Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every 10-12 minutes. Add shrimp, parsley, green onions, and lemon juice. Simmer for 20 minutes until shrimp are cooked through; taste for salt & pepper and adjust as needed. Remove bay leaves. Serve over hot cooked rice.
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What would you think of subbing tenderized gator meat for the shrimp in this dish?
It would work just fine. You’ll need to cook the alligator longer than shrimp, of course. Alligator, rabbit, squirrel, and other game are the usual proteins in a sauce piquante.