Not A Craze, A People
Ask anyone from Louisiana about Cajun food and you may get a chuckle. Back in the 1980â€™s, Cajun food was all the rage. The rest of the world had finally discovered what residents of southern Louisiana had known all their lives; simple food, local to the region, cooked in abundance and cooked slow was some of the best tasting food around. The food that people of Cajun descent ate on a daily basis had become fashionable.
In the late eighteenth century, French-speaking immigrants arrived from Acadia in Nova Scotia, Canada and settled in southern Louisiana. They brought with them the culinary skills learned from their homeland, and applied them to foods indigenous to their new surroundings. Today, â€œAcadianaâ€, or Cajun country is made of twenty-two parishes (counties) in southern Louisiana. Cultivating their land was always important despite any other jobs they held.
Cajun vs. Creole
Although similar, cajun and creole are not quite the same food. Creole cooking is more European and urban inspired. Many of the same ingredients and methods are used, but different ethnic hands are in the cultural pot. New Orleans is the center of Creole cooking with influences from France, Spain, Africa, the Caribbean, and America. Cajun food is rustic, country cooking. The ties from France are strong, as are the skills learned from the Germans and Native Americans. Most Cajun sauces are brown (notable exception, sauce piquant); Creole sauces tend to be red. Similarities lie in the use of a roux for thickening, and the inclusion of the trinity of bell peppers, onions, and celery in most dishes.
Whatâ€™s In The Pot?
The wet climate and bayous produce plentiful crops of rice; youâ€™d be hard pressed to find a Cajun meal that does not include it. These wetlands and nearby waterways are responsible for an ample supply of seafood. Cajun food is famous for one-pot meals such as Jambalaya, gumbos, and etouffes. Many people also have in mind that Cajun food is always hot and spicy. With this type of cuisine, itâ€™s all about the flavor, not necessarily the heat. The fire on the palate comes from the use of black, white, and red (cayenne) pepper. Eating and living off the land means that chicken, pork, beef, and wild game are often part of the meal. The seafood category also holds frog, alligator, and turtle.
Cajun Food Favorites
Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to preparing and eating Cajun food. This is not fast food by any means. Dishes are cooked long and slow to marry the flavors, which makes for a heavenly eating event. Listed below are a few of the favored entrees:
- Fricassee – A cross between a stew and a smothered dish with much thinner gravy.
- Sauce piquant – A tomato-based sauce made with stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, or tomato paste. It is cooked over low heat for several hours.
- Smothered – Meat or vegetables cooked down until tender and reduced. A small amount of andouille sausage or salt pork is often added. Occasional stirring is necessary for both meats and vegetables.
When it comes to Cajun culture and food, there are some terms you may want to know. They include:
- Andouille-Spicy Louisiana smoked sausage.
- Boudin- Rice dressing stuffed in a sausage casing.
- Bouilli- Dish made with pork heart and liver.
- Boulet- Cajun meatball.
- Courtbouillon- Tomato based fish soup.
- Cracklins- Deep fried pork skin, may have small bits of meat attached.
- Crawfish- Small red crustacean that resembles a lobster.
- Cush Cush- Cereal made with cornbread and/or water.
- Etoufee- Literally means cooked down. Typically made with seafood in a cream based gravy.
- File- Powdered sassafras leaves used for thickening and seasoning a gumbo.
- Gumbo- Cajun/Creole soup made with any combination of chicken, seafood, and smoked sausage. Always includes the trinity and always served over rice.
- Jambalaya- Similar to Spanish Paella. A mixed rice dish with either seafood, chicken, and/or sausage.
- Poisson- Cajun word for fish.
- Roux- A base gravy made with equal amounts of oil and flour. It can be cooked to various color levels from light to dark.
- Tasso- Heavily smoked pork strips or cubes used to season meat, beans, or vegetables.
Cajun food embodies love of a culture and love of food. There is no rush. Long slow cooking means thereâ€™s more time to fellowship with family and friends. The portions arenâ€™t meager, and itâ€™s by no means food that will whittle your waistline. Consider this one of those times when youâ€™ll get back on the healthy eating track the next day. In the meantime, revel in the glory of gumbo with andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp, served over mounds of white fluffy rice. Have a side helping of potato salad mixed with homemade mayonnaise. Finish this sinfully rich meal with a slice of pecan pie, and wash it down with an iced cold glass of sweet tie. Then sit back and relax on the front porch and look forward to seconds.
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