The eyeglasses give the well-built, middle aged man a scholarly look, but he carries an obvious outdoors veneer from years in the sun.
Nothing in Capt. Tommy Pellegrin’s appearance would lead one to believe he is a chef.
But the Houma charter guide has a big confession to make.
“I’d rather cook than fish. It’s just easier being in the fishing business. When people get in a boat, they are getting into their happy box. In a restaurant, people are harder to please.”
So he’s a charter guide, and cooks for fun.
“I cook because I like to see people enjoy good food”, he explained. “It’s great to come up with something original ....
“I consider myself a Cajun cook. My mother Carolyn and my grandmothers Nin Pellegrin and Clara Boudreaux Carlos were Cajun cooks from down the bayou — Bayou Dulac and Little Caillou. They cooked stews, gumbos, fried seafood, rice, white beans, red beans and soft potato salad that you put in your gumbo.”
Tommy still cooks traditional Cajun, but has branched out into making his own original dishes and is fearless in the kitchen. “I just think of something and I cook it,” he grinned.
“Both my wife and I cook, about equally. In a seven-day week, we cook five of them. On Thursdays we go out. The other day, we eat leftovers.”
And he is obviously creative. He makes his own Creole seasoning and never cooks anything out of a box, including pancakes, muffins, beignets and biscuits.
The idea for this dish came to Tommy while he was watching a television commercial in which honey balsamic vinegar was used to season chicken. “I said, ‘What, I never heard of this.’
“I had some leftover live bait shrimp in my boat’s livewell that I used to try this. It resembled traditional New Orleans barbequed shrimp, but had a totally different flavor spectrum. I added Creole seasoning for the salt, oil to lubricate the shrimp and for flavor, and the vinegar just for its flavor.
“This is extremely not spicy. It’s flavorful without being peppery hot. My wife Laurie loved it. My son Eric, who is a part-time charter guide, thought it was great. My daughter Sarah thought it was really good, but she wanted more spice, so she added cayenne pepper at the table.”
Like barbequed shrimp, this dish has a lot of broth, but it isn’t as thick and oily. Serve it with plenty of French bread to sop up every drop. This isn’t a dish for the delicate. Dive into it with your fingers to peel the shrimp and keep a napkin handy.
TIP: If you can’t find Guidry’s Fresh Cut Creole Seasoning mix in a plastic container in the fresh produce section of the store, you can make your own, using 2 ¼ cups chopped onions, ½ cup chopped bell pepper, ½ cup chopped celery, 1 cup chopped green onions, ¼ cup chopped parsley and five cloves of minced garlic.
3 1/2 lb. large shrimp, head-on
1/4 cup Creole seasoning
1 stick of butter, melted
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup honey
1 stick of butter
2 1/2 cups Guidry’s Fresh Cut Creole Seasoning
1 yellow bell pepper, coarsely slivered
1 red bell pepper, coarsely slivered
PREPARATION: Serves 4.
Wash the shrimp, place them in a large mixing bowl, then sprinkle them with the Creole seasoning. Mix the melted butter, Worcestershire Sauce, and olive oil, and pour over the shrimp. Mix balsamic vinegar, white wine and honey in a bowl or measuring cup and stir to dissolve the honey. Pour the mixture over the shrimp and stir well to mix. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes. Melt remaining stick of butter in a heavy pot and add Guidry’s seasoning and the bell peppers. Cook over high heat until the seasonings are soft, stirring often to prevent sticking. Add the shrimp and stir into the seasonings. Cover and cook on high until the mixture boils. Stir once more, reduce heat to medium-high and cook until the shells of the shrimp begin to separate from the flesh. Do not over-stir or the heads will come off the shrimp. Do not overcook. Serve with French bread to sop the juices.
Tommy’s delicious trout
The background on this dish is ridiculously simple: Tommy didn’t spend long hours in the kitchen refining it through trial and error. Instead, I was at his home to cook his Balsamic Shrimp recipe. I told him that we needed two recipes for this column.
“Hmm,” he mused a moment, then dug out a plastic bag of speckled trout fillets that we had caught that very morning (see “Caillou Island Junkyard Trout”). Almost anything wrapped in bacon is good; fresh trout ought to be even better.”
The savory smokiness of the bacon melded perfectly with the smooth, mild taste of the fish. We wondered why we hadn’t tried this before ourselves.
8 5-oz fish fillets
2 tbsp. olive oil
Creole seasoning to taste
1 12-oz. package of thick-sliced bacon, cut in half-slices
PREPARATION: Serves 4.
Trim the fillets of any bone or skin, wash, and cut into thirds. Place in a bowl and add olive oil and Creole seasoning. Mix by hand to coat the fish pieces. Wrap each piece with a half-slice of bacon and pin the bacon in place with a toothpick. Pour 3 inches of cooking oil in a frying pan and heat the oil to 375º F. Add the wrapped pieces of fish one at a time and fry until the bacon is done. Remove and drain.