Cajun cuisine

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Po' boy sandwiches are associated with the cuisine of New Orleans.
Cornbread is a staple Cajun starch.
Further information: Cajun

Cajun cuisine (French: Cuisine cadienne) [kɥizin kadjɛn]. This style of cooking is named for the French-speaking Acadian deported by the British from Acadia in Canada to the Acadiana region of Louisiana, USA. 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 bell pepper (poivron), onion and celery are called by Cajun chefs the holy trinity of both Cajun and 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.

History[edit]

17th - 18th Centuries: From Canada to Southern Louisiana[edit]

Around 1755, Acadians were forced out of their settlements by the British, and as a result, they migrated in 1755 in what was called the Grand Derangement, eventually settling in Southern Louisiana.[1] Due to the extreme change in climate, Acadians were unable cook their original dishes.[2] There were a series of “starving years” during the 18th century during which fish and game became important food sources. As more natural resources were used, foods such as eggs became a key source of protein. Soon their culinary traditions were lost and they assimilated and adopted what are now considered rustic Cajun cuisine traditions.[3]

Late 19th - Early 20th Centuries[edit]

According to Bienvenu, in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, a meal of slow-cooked meat, corn bread, and seasonal vegetables was a common dish. Overall, the meals were quite simplistic.[4] It was in this same time period, particularly the early 20th century, that freshwater fish began to hold a more prominent position in Cajun cuisine. This rise in popularity was made possible by developments such as refrigeration, building of roads, and higher income. [5]

Mid to Late 20th Century: The Redefining of Cajun Cuisine[edit]

Seafood became popular in the mid to late 20th century, as more Cajun men became introduced to seafood through their work on oil rigs.[6] Crawfish also became popular around this time.[7] Fried seafood became popular in restaurants, but was rarely prepared at home because it was a messy process. According to Bienvenu, the most common home-cooked Cajun dish was beef, rice, and gravy.[8] Cajun cooking in the restaurant industry was further distinguished from home cooking with Paul Prudhomme's creations.[9] 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. [10]

Cajun Cuisine Today[edit]

Today, most restaurants serve dishes that consist of Cajun styles, which Paul Prudhomme dubbed "Louisiana cooking".[11] In home-cooking, these individual styles are still kept separate.[11] However, there are fewer and fewer people cooking the classic Cajun dishes that would have been eaten by the original Acadian settlers of Louisiana. Like the rest of America, more and more Acadians are working individuals and so there is simply less time to prepare the slow-cooked meals that define classic Cajun cuisine.[12] Today, fusion of Cajun cuisine with other styles is becoming more prevalent.[13] Modern chefs, many of which do not have Cajun roots, are re-defining Cajun cuisine by taking elements and mixing them with a variety of other styles, including but not limited to Italian, Asian, and Mexican.[14]

Cajun Cooking Methods[edit]

  • Barbecuing - similar to "slow and low" Southern barbecue traditions, but with Creole / Cajun seasoning.
    • Baking - direct and indirect dry heat in a furnace or oven, faster than smoking but slower than grilling.
    • Grilling - direct heat on a shallow surface, fastest of all variants; sub-variants include:
      • Charbroiling - direct dry heat on a solid surface with wide raised ridges.
      • Gridironing - direct dry heat on a solid or hollow surface with narrow raised ridges.
      • Griddling - direct dry or moist heat along with the use of oils and butter on a flat surface.
    • Braising - combining a direct dry heat charbroil-grill or gridiron-grill with a pot filled with broth for direct moist heat, faster than smoking but slower than regular grilling and baking; time starts fast, slows down, then speeds up again to finish.
  • Boiling - as in boiling of crabs, crawfish, or shrimp, in seasoned liquid.
  • Deep frying
  • Smothering - cooking a vegetable or meat with low heat and small amounts of water or stock, similar to braising. Étouffée is a popular variant done with crawfish or shrimp.
  • Pan-broiling or pan-frying.
  • Injecting - using a large syringe-type setup to place seasoning deep inside large cuts of meat. This technique is much newer than the others on this list, but very common in Cajun Country
  • Stewing, also known as fricassée.

Deep-frying of turkeys or oven-roasted turduckens entered southern Louisiana cuisine more recently. Also, blackening of fish or chicken and barbecuing of shrimp in the shell are excluded because they were not prepared in traditional Cajun cuisine.[citation needed]

Ingredients[edit]

The following is a partial list of ingredients used in Cajun cuisine and some of the staple ingredients of the Acadian food culture.

Grains[edit]

  • Corn
  • Rice — long, medium, or short grain white; also popcorn rice
Rice proved to be a valuable commodity in early Cajun Country. With an abundance of water and a hot, humid climate, rice could be grown practically anywhere in the region and grew wild in some areas. Rice became the predominant starch in the diet, easy to grow, store and prepare. The oldest rice mill in operation in the United States, the Conrad Rice Mill, is located in New Iberia.
  • Wheat (for baking bread)

Fruits and vegetables[edit]

Meat and seafood[edit]

Cajun folkways include many ways of preserving meat, some of which are waning due to the availability of refrigeration and mass-produced meat at the grocer. Smoking of meats remains a fairly common practice, but once-common preparations such as turkey or duck confit (preserved in poultry fat, with spices) are now seen even by Acadians as quaint rarities.

Game (and hunting) are still uniformly popular in Acadiana.

The recent increase of catfish farming in the Mississippi Delta has brought about an increase in its usage in Cajun cuisine in the place of the more traditional wild-caught trout (the saltwater species) and red fish.

Seafood

Also included in the seafood mix are some so-called trash fish that would not sell at market because of their high bone to meat ratio or required complicated cooking methods. These were brought home by fishermen to feed the family. Examples are garfish, black drum also called gaspergou or just "goo", croaker, and bream.

Poultry

Pork

  • Andouille - a spicy dry smoked sausage, characterized by a coarse-ground texture
  • Boudin - a fresh sausage made with green onions, pork, and rice. Pig's blood is sometimes added to produce "boudin rouge". Other versions can contain seafood, such as crawfish.
  • Chaurice, similar to the Spanish chorizo
  • Chaudin or "ponce" - a pig's stomach, stuffed with spiced pork & smoked.
  • Ham hocks
  • Wild boar or Feral Hog
  • Head cheese
  • Gratons - hog cracklings or pork rinds; fried, seasoned pork fat & skin, sometimes with small bits of meat attached. Similar to the Spanish chicharrones.
  • Pork sausage (fresh) - not smoked or cured, but highly seasoned. Mostly used in gumbos. The sausage itself does not include rice, separating it from boudin.
  • Salt Pork
  • Tasso - a highly seasoned, smoked pork shoulder of the Choctaw

Beef and dairy
Though parts of Acadiana are well suited to cattle or dairy farming, beef is not often used in a pre-processed or uniquely Cajun form. It is usually prepared fairly simply as chops, stews, or steaks, taking a cue from Texas to the west. Ground beef is used as is traditional throughout the southern US, although seasoned differently.

Dairy farming is not as prevalent as in the past, but there are still some farms in the business. There are no unique dairy items prepared in Cajun cuisine. Traditional Cajun and New Orleans Creole influenced desserts are common.

Other Game Meats

Creole / Cajun Seasonings[edit]

Cajun woman reaching for strings of garlic suspended from rafters. Near Crowley, Louisiana, 1938.

Individual

Blended

  • "Creole / Cajun spice" blends such as Tony Chachere's and REX King of Spice are sometimes used in Cajun kitchens, but do not suit every cook's style because Creole / Cajun-style seasoning is often achieved from scratch, even by taste. Whole peppers are almost never used in authentic Cajun dishes — ground Cayenne, paprika, and pepper sauces predominate.
  • Hot sauce
  • Seafood boil mix
  • Vinegar seasoned with small, pickled, hot green peppers is a common condiment with many Cajun meals.
  • Persillade
  • Marinades made with olive oil, brown sugar, and citrus juices
  • Various barbecue rubs similar to those in other states

Cooking bases

  • Dark roux: The Cajuns inherited the roux from the French. However, unlike the French, it is made with oil or bacon fat and more lately olive oil, however, not normally with butter. It is used as a thickening agent, especially in gumbo and étouffée. Preparation of a dark roux is probably the most involved or complicated procedure in Cajun cuisine,[citation needed] involving heating fat and flour very carefully, constantly stirring for about 15–45 minutes (depending on the color of the desired product), until the mixture has darkened in color and developed a nutty flavor. A burnt roux renders a dish unpalatable. The scent of a good roux is so strong that even after leaving one's house the smell of roux is still embedded in one's clothes until they are washed.[citation needed] The scent is so strong and recognizable that others are able to tell if one is making a roux, and often infer that one is making a gumbo.
  • Light roux: The secret to making a good gumbo is pairing the roux with the protein.[citation needed] A dark roux, with its strong (dense) nutty flavor will completely overpower a simple seafood gumbo, but is the perfect complement to a gumbo using chicken, sausage, crawfish or alligator.[citation needed] A light roux, on the other hand, is better suited for strictly seafood dishes and unsuitable for meat gumbos for the reason that it does not support the heavier meat flavor as well. Pairing Roux with protein follows the same orthodox philosophy as pairing wine with protein.
  • Stocks: Cajun stocks are more heavily seasoned than Continental counterparts, and the shellfish stock sometimes made with shrimp and crawfish heads is unique to Cajun cuisine.

Cajun dishes[edit]

Three popular local dishes in Acadiana are noted in the Hank Williams' song Jambalaya, namely "Jambalaya and-a crawfish pie and filé gumbo".

Primary favorites[edit]

Boudin that has been smoked
Seafood gumbo

Boudin, sometimes spelled "boudain", 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 usually made daily as it does not keep well for very long, even when frozen. 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 Continental beliefs, gumbo does not mean simply "everything in the pot". Gumbo exemplifies the influence of 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 by the French Creoles of Louisiana.

A Choctaw 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) and/or seafood (such as shrimp or crawfish) and 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 native of Louisiana, the French Creoles.

Rice and gravy - Rice and gravy dishes are a staple of Cajun cuisine[15] 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.[16] Beef,[17] pork, chicken or any of a large variety of game meats are used for its preparation.[18] Popular local varieties include hamburger steak, smothered rabbit,[19] turkey necks,[20] and chicken fricassee.[21]

Food as an event[edit]

Crawfish boil[edit]

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[edit]

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.[22] 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.[23]

Cochon de Lait[edit]

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 lait's, adult pigs are used.[24] Unlike the family boucherie, a hog is not butchered by the hosts and there are generally not as many guests or activities.[25] The host and male guests have the task of roasting the pig (see pig roast) while female guests bring side dishes.

Rural Mardi Gras[edit]

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 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.[25]

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.[25] 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.[26]

Once the festivities begin, the Cajun community members eat and dance to Cajun music until midnight—the beginning of Lent.[26]

Other dishes and sides[edit]

Boudin balls

List of Cajun-influenced chefs[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gutierrez 1992, p. 6.
  2. ^ Bienvenu 2008, p. 20.
  3. ^ Bienvenu 2008. p. 21-22
  4. ^ Bienvenu 2008. p 23
  5. ^ Bienvenu 2008. p 26
  6. ^ Bienvenu 2008, p. 27-29.
  7. ^ Bienvenu 2008, p. 26-27.
  8. ^ Bienvenu 2008, p. 29.
  9. ^ Bienvenu 2008, p. 29-30.
  10. ^ Read. Accessed 2014-5-5.
  11. ^ a b Prudhomme 1984, p. 16.
  12. ^ Bienvenu 2008, p. 30.
  13. ^ Bienvenu 2008, p. 31.
  14. ^ Bienvenu 2008. p. 31
  15. ^ "Eat". Lafayettetravel.com. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  16. ^ Reed, David W. "Smothered Meat With Rice and Gravy". Texas A&M University. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  17. ^ "Smothered seven steaks". WAFB. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  18. ^ "Rice and Gravy". Realcajunrecipes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  19. ^ "Smothered rabbit with mushrooms". Louisiana Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  20. ^ "Smothered Turkey Necks in Onion Gravy". Chef John Folse & Company. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  21. ^ "Chicken Fricassee". Allrecipes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  22. ^ Gutierrez 1992, p.111.
  23. ^ Gutierrez 1992, p.110.
  24. ^ Gutierrez 1992, p.111
  25. ^ a b c Gutierrez 1992, p.112.
  26. ^ a b Gutierrez 1992, p.113.
  27. ^ Michael Stern. 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late: And the Very Best Places to Eat Them. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 978-0-547-05907-5. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 

References[edit]

  • Abshire, Brandon, Ruby Lange Buchanan, and Chrissy LeMaire. RealCajunRecipes.com. http://www.realcajunrecipes.com/.
  • Bienvenu, Marcelle, Carl A. Brasseaux, and Ryan A. Brasseux. Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cuisine. 2005. Paperback ed. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2008.
  • Gutierrez, Paige C. (1992). Cajun Foodways. Jackson and London: University Press of Mississippi, 1992.
  • Hill, Madalene, and Gwen Barclay. "From Acadian to Cajun." Herbarist no. 74 (November 2008): 68-73
  • Prudhomme, Paul. Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1984.
  • Read, Mimi. "Real Cajun Food, From Swamp to City: [Dining In, Dining Out / Style Desk]." New York Times, January 21, 2009, Late Edition (East Coast). Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost. http://search.proquest.com/docview/434010916?accountid=14612