Creole Sauce: Versatile Spicy “Red Gravy” Tomato Sauce

creole sauce
Creole sauce is a staple in New Orleans and Cajun cuisine for its versatility, mild spiciness, and use of the Cajun "holy trinity" of peppers, onions, and celery. While Creole sauce can be eaten with virtually any protein, veggie, or carb, it’s commonly served with shrimp and seafood.

What Is Creole Sauce?

Creole sauce is a spicy tomato-based sauce made with the Cajun “holy trinity,” herbs, garlic, and seasonings cooked in vegetable oil. 

The cooked condiment is also called red gravy, red sauce, Creole tomato sauce, Cajun red sauce, or sauce piquant.

creole sauce
Creole sauce.

Origins Of Creole Sauce

Creole sauce originates from Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans, where the sauce is a staple in Cajun and New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) cuisine.

Although the terms Cajun and Creole are often used interchangeably, they differ in what they describe and stand for.

Cajun refers to the Acadian people that were French settlers in Canada before they were exiled and resettled in Louisiana in the late 1700s. Their cuisine has influences from Southern and French cuisine.

The term Creole refers to the people living in Louisiana during the French colonial era, who comprised Native Americas, Spanish, and French descendants that Germans, Carribeans, and Acadians later joined.

The term Creole cuisine refers to any cuisine that is a fusion of different cuisines rather than one traceable to a specific people.

For example, the Louisiana creole cuisine that originates from the US is a fusion of Spanish, West African, Southern United States, Amerindian, and French cuisines.

As such, Creole sauce originates from Louisiana and is a blend of the many cuisines of the people of Louisiana, especially the New Orleans area. This complexity of influences in cuisines explains why many versions of Creole sauce exist.

What Are The Ingredients In Creole Sauce?

The main ingredients in Creole sauce are tomatoes, the Cajun holy trinity, seasonings, herbs, and garlic. 

Tomato Base

The tomato base can be canned crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce. You could also use fire-roasted tomatoes to add flavor to the sauce. You can use fresh tomatoes with the skin removed for a longer cooking sauce.

The Cajun Holy Trinity

The Cajun holy trinity refers to one part each of celery, onions, and green bell peppers.

However, Creole sauce traditionally features the trinity as two parts, each of celery and onions to one part of bell peppers. Recipes may also feature these ingredients in equal parts, such as 1/2 cup each.

cajun holy trinity
Cajun “Holy Trinity” with green bell pepper, celery, and onions.


The seasonings used in Creole sauce include ground white pepper, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, hot sauce, smoked paprika, ground black pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.

All these seasonings may be in the sauce, or some may be skipped. You can replace smoked paprika with regular paprika, or add more hot sauce or red pepper flakes for more heat.


The herbs used in Creole sauce include basil, thyme, oregano, saffron, bay leaves, and parsley. The sauce may feature all these herbs or skip some. Because saffron is expensive, some recipes use additional paprika or annatto to mimic the rich red color that saffron lends to the sauce.

Other Ingredients

Depending on the recipe and culinary origin, Creole sauce may feature other ingredients, such as:

  • Green onions
  • roux of all-purpose flour and butter
  • Chicken stock, fish stock, or vegetable stock (stock is usually used in Creole sauce recipes that feature roux. They are both added to enhance thickening.)
  • Bottled clam juice
  • Lemon juice
  • Red wine vinegar or white vinegar
  • Zested orange
  • Chopped carrot
  • Other hot peppers
  • Yellow or red bell peppers (instead of green ones)
  • Sweet chili sauce

How Spicy Is Creole Sauce?

Creole sauce is a mildly spicy sauce. The main hot peppers in the sauce are the medium-hot cayenne peppers, which clock 30,000-50,000 Scoville Heat Units.

You can make the sauce more or less spicy by using different types or amounts of hot peppers and hot sauces.

For example, you can replace cayenne peppers with milder peppers like jalapenos and serranos, or hotter ones like habaneros and ghost peppers.

You can also use hot paprika instead of smoked or sweet, and more red pepper flakes, black pepper, or ground pepper.

What Type Of Hot Sauce Is In Creole Sauce?

Tabasco hot sauce from tabasco peppers (30,000-50,000 SHUs) is the hot pepper sauce typically used in Creole sauce. 

Although the peppers from which the hot sauce is made have medium heat, tabasco hot sauce only reaches 2,500-5,000 SHU.

Producing tabasco sauce involves aging a mix of the peppers and salt in white oak barrels for up to three years, where the mix gets mellower before it is finally mixed with vinegar to make the pepper sauce.

An important thing to note here is that Tabasco sauce is popularly used as an umbrella term for hot sauce in restaurants.

Also, it is more popularly associated with the Tabasco Brand—the Mcllhenny Company that has produced the TABASCO® Original Red Pepper Sauce since 1868 with tabasco peppers cultivated on Avery Island in Louisiana.

This Lousiana connection between the Tabasco Brand and the origins of Creole sauce explains why tabasco sauce is the preferred red pepper hot sauce for making Creole sauce.

Of course, you can use your favorite hot sauce. Just adjust the amount listed in the recipe to your preferred heat level.

How To Use Creole Sauce

Creole sauce is a versatile cooked condiment that’s useful in the following ways:

  • As a dip, usually for fried dishes like fried green tomatoes and hush puppies.
  • As an ingredient in dishes like beans and rice.
  • Topping for grits, shrimp, chicken breasts, grilled sausages, and fried eggplants.
  • Spooning over grilled meats like fish and chicken.
  • As a unique pasta sauce for spicy spaghetti and noodles.
  • As a sandwich spread.
  • As a base for vegetarian meals with mushrooms and tofu.
shrimp with creole sauce
Shrimp with Creole sauce.

Is Creole Sauce Supposed To Be Smooth Or Chunky?

Creole sauce is traditionally supposed to be slightly chunky. If you want the sauce smoother, skip some firmer ingredients like chopped carrots. You can also blend or puree the sauce after cooking for a thinner, smoother consistency.

Adding some unsalted butter at the end gives it a silky, glistening finish.

How To Make Creole Sauce

Here’s a quick recipe to make 2 1/2 cups of Creole sauce at home. Tip: You can buy Creole seasoning in most grocery stores under the Zatarain’s or Tony Chachere’s brand, or you can make your own.

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creole sauce

Creole Sauce

  • Total Time: 30 minutes


A spicy tomato-based sauce popular in Creole and Cajun cuisines.


Units Scale
  • 2 tbsps minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp oilive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 cups peeled, diced tomatos
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne chili powder
  • 2 tsps fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps Creole seasoning
  • 2 tsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 8 tbsps butter
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco Hot Sauce (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • fresh cracked pepper


  1. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a saucepan. Toss in the celery, garlic, and onions, and sauté them for 3-4 minutes until they soften.
  2. Add the tomatoes, thyme, black pepper, basil, Creole seasoning, salt, oregano, and cayenne, and sauté for about 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and chicken broth. Bring the condiment to a boil. Add the green onions and continue cooking over high heat for 12-20 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  4. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the butter, and swirl thoroughly to incorporate it.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: sauce
  • Cuisine: Creole


Peppers have become the meeting point for three of Alex's greatest passions—gardening, cooking and writing. He is happiest watching small plants grow big and heavy with produce, and he can't wait to harvest self-grown fresh produce for his kitchen. When he is not taking care of his pepper plants, you'll find him busy cooking and sampling different peppers as he seeks the next hotter pepper.

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