One of America’s Favorites – Cajun Cuisine

October 30, 2017 at 5:36 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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Po’ boy sandwiches are associated with the cuisine of New Orleans.

Cajun cuisine (French: Cuisine cadienne, [kɥizin kadʒæ̃n]) is a style of cooking named for the French-speaking Acadian people deported by the British from Acadia in Canada to the Acadiana region of Louisiana. It is what could be called a rustic cuisine; locally available ingredients predominate and preparation is simple.

An authentic Cajun meal is usually a three-pot affair, with one pot dedicated to the main dish, one dedicated to steamed rice, special made sausages, or some seafood dish, and the third containing whatever vegetable is plentiful or available. Shrimp and pork sausage are staple meats used in a variety of dishes.

The aromatic vegetables green bell pepper (poivron), onion, and celery are called the holy trinity by Cajun chefs in Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisines. Roughly diced and combined in cooking, the method is similar to the use of the mirepoix in traditional French cuisine which blends roughly diced onion, celery and carrot. Characteristic aromatics for the Creole version may also include parsley, bay leaf, green onions, dried cayenne pepper, and dried black pepper.

Around 1755, Acadians were forced out of their settlements by the British, and as a result, they migrated in 1755 in what was called le Grand Dérangement, eventually settling in Southern Louisiana. Due to the extreme change in climate, Acadians were unable to cook their original dishes. Soon, their former culinary traditions were lost, and so, these other meals developed to become what is now considered classic Cajun cuisine traditions (not to be confused with the more modern concept associated with Prudhomme’s style). Up through the 20th century, the meals were not elaborate but instead, rather basic. The public’s false perception of “Cajun” cuisine was based on Prudhomme’s style of Cajun cooking, which was spicy, flavorful, and not true to the classic form of the cuisine. Cajun and Creole label have been mistaken to be the same, but the origins of Creole cooking began in New Orleans, and Cajun cooking came 40 years after the establishment of New Orleans down south on the bayou. Today, most restaurants serve dishes that consist of Cajun styles, which Paul Prudhomme dubbed “Louisiana cooking”.In home-cooking, these individual styles are still kept separate. However, there are fewer and fewer people cooking the classic Cajun dishes that would have been eaten by the original settlers.

Boudin that has been smoked

Primary Cajun Dishes Favorites
Boudin is a type of sausage made from pork, pork liver, rice, garlic, green onions and other spices. It is widely available by the link or pound from butcher shops. Boudin is typically stuffed in a natural casing and has a softer consistency than other, better-known sausage varieties. It is usually served with side dishes such as rice dressing, maque choux or bread. Boudin balls are commonly served in southern Louisiana restaurants and are made by taking the boudin out of the case and frying it in spherical form.

Gumbo – High on the list of favorites of Cajun cooking are the soups called gumbos. Contrary to non-Cajun or

Seafood gumbo

Continental beliefs, gumbo does not mean simply “everything in the pot”. Gumbo exemplifies the influence of French, Spanish, African and Native American food cultures on Cajun cuisine. The name originally meant okra, a word brought to the region from western Africa. Okra which can be one of the principal ingredients in gumbo recipes is used as a thickening agent and for its distinct vegetable flavor. Many claim that Gumbo is a “Cajun” dish, but Gumbo was established long before the Acadian arrival. Its early existence came via the early French Creole culture In New Orleans, Louisiana, where French, Spanish and Africans frequented and also influenced by later waves of Italian, German and Irish settlers.

A filé gumbo is thickened with dried sassafras leaves after the stew has finished cooking, a practice borrowed from the Choctaw Indians. The backbone of a gumbo is roux of which there are two variations: Cajun, a golden brown roux, and Creole, a dark roux, which is made of flour, toasted until well-browned, and fat or oil. The classic gumbo is made with chicken and the Cajun sausage called andouille, pronounced {ahn-doo-wee}, but the ingredients vary according to what is available.

Jambalaya – Another classic Cajun dish is jambalaya. The only certain thing that can be said about a jambalaya is that it contains rice, some sort of meat (such as chicken or beef), seafood (such as shrimp or crawfish) or almost anything else. Usually, however, one will find green peppers, onions, celery, tomatoes and hot chili peppers. Anything else is optional. This is also a great pre-Acadian dish, established by the Spanish in Louisiana.

Rice and gravy – Rice and gravy dishes are a staple of Cajun cuisine and is usually a brown gravy based on pan drippings, which are deglazed and simmered with extra seasonings and served over steamed or boiled rice. The dish is traditionally made from cheaper cuts of meat and cooked in a cast iron pot, typically for an extended time period in order to let the tough cuts of meat become tender. Beef, pork, chicken or any of a large variety of game meats are used for its preparation. Popular local varieties include hamburger steak, smothered rabbit, turkey necks, and chicken fricassee.

Cajun Cuisine Food as an event
Crawfish boil

Louisiana-style crawfish boil

Louisiana-style crawfish boil

The crawfish boil is a celebratory event where Cajuns boil crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn in large pots over propane cookers. Lemons and small muslin bags containing a mixture of bay leaves, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper and other spices, commonly known as “crab boil” or “crawfish boil” are added to the water for seasoning. The results are then dumped onto large, newspaper-draped tables and in some areas covered in Creole / Cajun spice blends, such as REX, Zatarain’s, Louisiana Fish Fry or Tony Chachere’s. Also, Cocktail sauce, mayonnaise and hot sauce are sometimes used. The seafood is scooped onto large trays or plates and eaten by hand. During times when crawfish are not abundant, shrimp and crabs are prepared and served in the same manner.

Attendees are encouraged to “suck the head” of a crawfish by separating the abdomen of the crustacean and sucking out the abdominal fat/juices.

Often, newcomers to the crawfish boil or those unfamiliar with the traditions are jokingly warned “not to eat the dead ones”. This comes from the common belief that when live crawfish are boiled, their tails curl beneath themselves, but when dead crawfish are boiled, their tails are straight and limp. Seafood boils with crabs and shrimp are also popular.

Family Boucherie

Cornbread is a staple Cajun starch

A traditional “boucherie” near Eunice
The traditional Cajun outdoor food event hosted by a farmer in the rural areas of the Acadiana. Family and friends of the farmer gather to socialize, play games, dance, drink, and have a copious meal consisting of hog and other dishes. Men have the task of slaughtering a hog, cutting it into usable parts, and cooking the main pork dishes while women have the task of making boudin.

Cochon de Lait
Similar to a family boucherie, the cochon de lait is a food event that revolves around pork but does not need to be hosted by a farmer. Traditionally, a suckling pig was purchased for the event, but in modern cochon de laits, adult pigs are used. Unlike the family boucherie, a hog is not butchered by the hosts and there are generally not as many guests or activities. The host and male guests have the task of roasting the pig while female guests bring side dishes.

Rural Mardi Gras
The traditional Cajun Mardi Gras (see: Courir de Mardi Gras) is a Mardi Gras celebration in rural Cajun Parishes. The tradition originated in the 18th century with the Cajuns of Louisiana, but it was abandoned in the early 20th century because of unwelcome violence associated with the event. In the early 1950s the tradition was revived in Mamou in Evangeline Parish.

The event revolves around male maskers on horseback who ride into the countryside to collect food ingredients for the party later on. They entertain householders with Cajun music, dancing, and festive antics in return for the ingredients. The preferred ingredient is a live chicken in which the householder throws the chicken to allow the maskers to chase it down (symbolizing a hunt), but other ingredients include rice, sausage, vegetables, or frozen chicken. Unlike other Cajun events, men take no part in cooking the main course for the party, and women prepare the chicken and ingredients for the gumbo.

Once the festivities begin, the Cajun community members eat and dance to Cajun music until midnight, as the beginning of Lent.

 

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