CREOLE STUFFED PEPPERS

recipe + photography BILLY DOUKAS

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New Orleans food style, which includes Creole, is a hardy and enchanting regional American cuisine. A blend of borrowed ideas from French and Spanish chefs, adapted by people of the New World to fit their needs, which resulted in distinctive and delightful dishes.

Stuffing peppers with either a savory sausage, or a spicy fresh shrimp filling, and topping them with a sweet béchamel sauce creates a pleasing complexity of flavors and satisfies the artist in all of us.

Makes 12 peppers


Andouille and hot sausage stuffing
12 large fresh peppers, green, red and orange, tops cut and pulp removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups pepper tops, de-stemmed, chopped medium fine
1 large sweet or yellow onion, chopped medium fine
1 large bunch parsley, chopped fine
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon hot pepper (habanero or similar), very finely chopped
3 cups fresh mushrooms, cremini or shitake sliced
2 tablespoons garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons thyme
2 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ tablespoon basil
¾ teaspoon allspice
¼  teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups cooked long grain rice
1 pound andouille sausage, cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 pound hot sausage (your favorite), ground
28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded

Shrimp stuffing
Ingredients as directed above with the following substitutions:
3 cups celery, chopped fine (replaces mushrooms)
2 pounds raw shrimp, any count (size), chopped coarsely (replaces sausages)

New Orleans–style béchamel sauce
4 ounces butter (or bacon fat)
1 cup flour
1 quart whole milk
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon  kosher salt
2 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (topping)


Stuffing preps
It is best to prepare the vegetables and peppers ahead of cooking as it is the most time-consuming step. Cut pepper tops off about ¼ from the top, allowing a wide opening, remove pulp and rinse. To make peppers sit level, cut a small slice from the base. In a Dutch oven bring 1 inch salted water to a rapid boil, place cleaned peppers inside, cover, and cook 6 minutes. Remove, drain and set on greased sheet pan to cool.

Heat olive oil in cast iron pan and sauté chopped pepper tops, onion, parsley, scallions, hot peppers and mushrooms (sausage stuffing) or celery (shrimp stuffing). After 5 minutes on medium heat, add garlic, thyme, salt, black pepper, basil, allspice and cayenne pepper. Prepare cooked rice (firm), drain, set aside.

For meat stuffing, add andouille and hot sausage, and continue heating for 5-6 minutes on medium heat, reduce to simmer.

For shrimp stuffing, add shrimp for 2-3 minutes on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, reduce to simmer.

For both stuffings, add tomatoes, break them up with a spoon, and cook another 10 minutes. Shut off heat, stir in Parmesan and cooked rice. Spoon stuffing into peppers leaving a ½-inch space for béchamel sauce.

Sauce prep
Gently melt butter in a small saucepan and gradually whisk in flour, achieving a soft clay consistency (roux). Heat milk in 2-quart saucepan and whisk in ⅓ of roux while continuing to heat. After 10 minutes, add Tabasco, salt, tomato paste and remaining roux while blending thoroughly and heating. Once sauce thickens, ladle béchamel sauce onto stuffed peppers and top with shredded cheddar cheese.

Bake and broil
Preheat oven to 350° F and set rack at the top third of the oven.

Bake stuffed peppers for 25 minutes and turn to broil for the last 5 minutes, which will turn the tops golden brown. (Keep a close eye on this.)

Suggestions
As a main meal, or an appetizer, Creole Stuffed Peppers go very well with a cilantro/lime/cabbage slaw or a dandelion salad.  A pilsner beer will work best here, enhancing the savory and sweet flavors while contrasting the slight heat.

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