This week we're up to #34 on Gourmet's list of the 50 Women Game Changers in the world of food: Ella Brennan---the dynamo restaurateur and 'Queen of Creole Cuisine' from the Big Easy. Thanks to Mary from One Perfect Bite for organizing a group of us cooking and blogging our way through this list, one dish at a time. Check back every Friday for another story and recipe from the list, and e-mail Mary if you'd like to join the group.
Ella Brennan is synonymous with fine southern cooking, but as opposed to some of our other Game Changers, she wasn't born into privilege; she started from the ground up working odd jobs at her brother's restaurant as a teenager during the Depression. She didn't stop until she and her family owned 12 award winning eating establishments across the south, among them the famous Commander's Palace in New Orleans. She is credited with bringing 'haute' or 'nouvelle' Creole cuisine into the spotlight and elevating it to a national prominence. The Commander's Palace became a training ground for many of the city's best chefs, and over the course of 65 years Ella Brennan and her restaurants have come to epitomize old style southern hospitality and down home comfort.
The family packaged the Creole mystique and pushed it into the American mainstream. 'Bananas Foster' was invented during Miss Ella's reign at Brennan's; so was 'Breakfast at Brennan's', the prototypical American brunch. Paul Prudhomme got his start at Commander's Palace. The Brennans preserved a bastion of civility, where good eating is de rigueur, as much as telling long, vivid stories.*
I chose Creole Sauce from Brennan's restaurant because it's a classic Creole/Cajun recipe that can be adapted to use in so many different kinds of dishes. I'm not all that familiar with southern cooking, so I thought this would be a good one to have under my belt. You can make it vegetarian with rice and beans, or use it with chicken, sausage, or seafood. It's native shrimp season here so I added the tiny wild caught native shrimp and served it over rice.
The dish starts like most Creole dishes with sauteing the holy trinity: onions, bell peppers and celery in plenty of butter.
Lots of tomatoes, paprika, Worcestershire, and 3 kinds of pepper give it a deep red color and a snappy taste.
Creole Sauce ~~~ from Brennan's Restaurant
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2. cups green bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups celery, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
pinch of black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of white pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoon water
1/4 cup fresh parsley
- Melt butter in a large saucepan and cook the bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic until tender, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste, paprika, and Italian seasoning and cook an additional 3 minutes.
- Add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water, tomato juice, tomatoes, Worcestershire, salt, black, cayenne and white pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- In a small bowl, blend the cornstarch with 4 tablespoons water until smooth. Gradually add the cornstarch to the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Note: I didn't thicken mine with the cornstarch because I prefer a thinner texture. I also added several dashes of Louisiana hot sauce for a little kick. You can make the sauce ahead, but don't add the shrimp until just before you are ready to eat.
*You can read more about Ella in this NYT article.
Check out these other bloggers who are exploring Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers along with me---
Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Heather - girlichef
Miranda of Mangoes and Chutney
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Linda A - There and Back Again
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits,
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Annie - Lovely Things
Nancy - Picadillo
Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook
Kathy- Bake Away With Me
Alyce - More Time at the Table
Amrita - Beetles Kitchen Escapades