Finding a way to use saffron in everyday dishes really adds pleasure to a weeknight supper. When a cook has great saffron on hand, it only takes a tiny amount to turn the ordinary into the unforgettable, while staying within a family’s budget.
In my kitchen, succotash is one of the great vegetable dishes so versatile that I return to making mine quite often in variation after variation. The basic template of corn, butter beans, and tomatoes can be a celebration of summer’s freshest bounty or a riff on succotash that is always a reliable side of sunshine when made year round utilizing frozen vegetables with love & happiness.
In South Louisiana, we’ll toss some okra in the skillet and dub the dish as maque choux. Some folks like to start off by frying a little bacon or ham in the skillet and crumbling the meat over the rest of the finished stew, but it’s just as tasty to make the dish vegan without any odd complicating substitutions.
Because I’m a New Orleans chef, I love to take advantage of our gorgeous shrimp pulled from the Gulf of Mexico, and since I’m featuring Rumi Saffron in this recipe, let me share with readers my cook’s thrill: observing how fresh shrimp absorb the flavor and delicate golden color of saffron in the final stage of simmering in this suddenly dazzling succotash. All it takes is a pinch of saffron to summon the magic!
The recipe that follows is a snapshot of one of my many variations upon the theme of succotash. For this version, I enjoyed sneaking in a little can of Ro-Tel tomato & green chile for an extra kiss of heat, in addition to my everlasting affection for Chef K-Paul Prudhomme’s wonderful Cajun spice blend called “Seafood Magic.” I trust you’ll season your succotash to the tastes of your table, and actually, you couldn’t go wrong by seasoning the onions & celery to get this party started with Rumi’s Paella Spice Blend instead— you’ll figure it out how you make this succotash your thang.
If you’re featuring Saffron Shrimp Succotash as your main course, you might want to cook a small pot of long grain rice, like basmati, or a pot of grits will never dismay a Southerner, even for dinner, with a dish like this sexy succotash. Or you can use this dish as the accompanying base for a piece of baked fish, fried or roasted chicken, or for anything you’re in the mood to grill from mushrooms and eggplant to steaks. I’ve even used crawfish instead of shrimp in the succotash and featured that as a warm salad over sturdy greens like mâche, arugula, or mesclun mixed greens!
One of the first variations in this dish happens depending on if you’re using fresh shrimp that need to be peeled and/or if using fresh corn. Making a broth from the corncobs and shrimp shells will only make the succotash deeper in flavor, and extra broth can be saved in the freezer for soups & stews of the future. It's still tasty if you’re making it without but start the broth first if you have either corncobs or fresh shrimp to peel.
- 1-2 Tbsp favorite cooking oil
- 1 lb of medium-sized Gulf shrimp
- 1/2 sweet yellow onion, Vidalia or what else is in the market; diced small
- 1 rib of celery, ideally with a little bit of the tender leafy core ribs, too; diced small
- 1 Tbsp K-Paul’s Seafood Magic spice blend, plus some to season the shrimp
- 2 tsp garlic powder, or 3 cloves of fresh garlic; minced
- 1 tsp each, sea salt & ground pepper
- 12 oz package of frozen butter beans, or Lima/Fordhook beans
- 1 lb of frozen corn, or 6-8 ears of fresh corn shucked off the cob (Optional)
- 8 oz frozen cut okra, or 1 cup fresh okra)
- 1 cup yellow squash, cut into thin half moons
- 1 small can of diced tomatoes, or 1 1/2 cups freshly cut, juicy, diced tomatoes
- 1 small can Ro-Tel
- (1 bay leaf)
- 1/4 teaspoon of Rumi Saffron threads
- 4 green onions, minced
- 1 TBSP butter, to finish
- Over medium-low heat, warm a large 12-inch skillet. Add oil, add diced onions & celery, and stir to soften about 2-3 minutes. Add K-Paul’s Seafood Magic, the garlic, salt, and pepper, and keep cooking the seasoned vegetables, stirring often until the onions are translucent. In the classic Cajun mirepoix, there’ll be minced green bell peppers, parsley, and green onions chopped with the onions & celery, and many avid South Louisiana cooks keep this Cajun mirepoix (which is widely available in local grocers) on hand. Personally, I don’t care for green bell peppers and prefer to finish dishes with green onions at the end of the cooking time, but that’s my style. Certainly, if you have fresh herbs such as thyme, flat-leaf parsley, or basil at hand you’ll wanna slip a little herb in at your discretion.
- Meanwhile, sprinkle the Seafood Magic over the shrimp in a separate bowl or platter. We aren’t planning on blackening these shrimp, so don’t go hog wild unless you’re the kind of daredevil cook who enjoys busting out the cast iron pan to sear your seafood. For this version, I don’t want to lose the unique yet delicate razzle dazzle gained from the saffron interacting with the shrimp, but, hey, if you score big 10 counts per lb. fresh Gulf shrimp, like I can, or want to use scampi or langoustines, then go for it! Otherwise, medium-sized shrimp gently poached in the succotash will be fine for our purposes, and they require only a modest seasoning to be ready to sing for our supper!
- Once our onions & celery have laid down a tasty backbeat of flavors, next in go the butter beans. Again, there are variations to choose from in which beans to feature. I’ve made succotash from dried heirloom beans I’d carefully rehydrated & simmered beforehand, to frozen Lima beans I had stashed for a harried meal plan under pressure. So long as the beans you use are already cooked and ready to join in the fun, you can’t make a bad choice!
- Add in the corn and yellow squash (and okra, if you feel like making maque choux), and add in just enough water or broth to cover the skillet by about 1/4 inch. Slip in the bay leaf, and let things come to a simmer, still on medium-low heat. Add the tomatoes, and let everything comes to a simmer again before adding a nice pinch of saffron— it shouldn’t take more than 1/4 teaspoon to take us to culinary bliss, but remember saffron blooms in warm, juicy culinary situations so keep the skillet low & steady for about 10-12 minutes to let the flavors merge. Check your seasoning as soon as this simmering phase draws to a conclusion so that your shrimp are ready to dive into the perfected idea of your succotash....
- Check the liquid levels after this simmering time. We aren’t looking for a soupy skillet, but we do need enough moisture to skillet poach the shrimp as we turn the shrimp over a few times for the next 3-4 minutes. The shrimp will gain the telltale yellow color from the saffron as they gently cook.
- Add the green onions, stirring everything to a balanced place in the skillet, then swirl in a tablespoon of butter to get that dose of luxe shine, if so desired.
—Chef Chris DeBarr of Revel Cafe, New Orleans.