Cajun cuisine

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Cajun cuisine (French: Cuisine Cadienne [kɥizin kadjɛn]) is the style of cooking named for the French-speaking Acadian or "Cajun" immigrants 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. Ground cayenne and fresh black pepper are used often.

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

History[edit]

Acadian refugees, who largely came from what is now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, adapted their French rustic cuisine to local ingredients such as rice, crawfish, sugar cane and sassafras. Cajun cuisine relies heavily on game meats, frequently smoked, supplemented with rice or corn. French, Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and African culinary influences can be detected in Cajun food.

Cooking methods[edit]

  • Barbecuing - similar to "slow and low" Southern barbecue traditions, but with 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]

Cajun woman using crude mortar and pestle in process of hulling rice. Near Crowley, Louisiana, 1938.
  • Corn
  • Rice — long, medium, or short grain white; also popcorn rice
Rice proved to be a valuable commodity in early Acadiana. 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

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 southern US and New Orleans influenced desserts are common.

Other Game Meats

Seasonings[edit]

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

Individual

Blended

  • "Cajun spice" blends such as Tony Chachere's and REX King of Spice are sometimes used in Acadiana kitchens, but do not suit every cook's style because 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 Acadians 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: Acadian 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.

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: acadian, 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.

Rice and gravy - Rice and gravy dishes are a staple of Cajun cuisine[1] 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.[2] Beef,[3] pork, chicken or any of a large variety of game meats are used for its preparation.[4] Popular local varieties include hamburger steak, smothered rabbit,[5] turkey necks,[6] and chicken fricassee.[7]

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 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.

Boucherie[edit]

A traditional "boucherie" near Eunice

The traditional pig-slaughtering party where Cajuns gather to socialize, play music, dance, and preserve meat does still occur in some rural communities and individual farms, but the use of every last bit of meat, including organs and variety cuts in sausages such as boudin and the inaccessible bits in the head as head cheese are not a necessity as they were before the days of refrigeration.

Other dishes and sides[edit]

Boudin balls

List of Cajun or Cajun-influenced chefs[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Eat". Lafayettetravel.com. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  2. ^ Reed, David W. "Smothered Meat With Rice and Gravy". Texas A&M University. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  3. ^ "Smothered seven steaks". WAFB. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  4. ^ "Rice and Gravy". Realcajunrecipes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  5. ^ "Smothered rabbit with mushrooms". Louisiana Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  6. ^ "Smothered Turkey Necks in Onion Gravy". Chef John Folse & Company. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  7. ^ "Chicken Fricassee". Allrecipes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  8. ^ 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.