Louisiana Creole cuisine
Louisiana Creole cuisine is a style of cooking originating in Louisiana, United States which blends French, Spanish, West African, Amerindian, Caribbean, German, Italian and Irish influences, as well as influences from the general cuisine of the Southern United States.
Creole cuisine revolves around influences found in Louisiana from populations that were present in Louisiana before the sale of Louisiana to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. And because of this, as well as two separate areas of Louisiana where the name Creole is used to describe the cuisine, there are two types of Creole cuisine found in Louisiana. The first type is the Creole cuisine of the Greater New Orleans area, and the other is a different type from the New Orleans type, and is found in Acadiana, the area in south Louisiana known as "Cajun Country". The rural Creole cuisine bears more similarities with Cajun food than the creole cuisine found in New Orleans. Creole cuisine of the New Orleans area is the result of a cuisine that formed from the many different influences from all the ethnic groups that settled the New Orleans area. Creole cuisine found in Acadiana is the result of similar colonial influences as well as Cajun influences. Since the 1980s, Creole cuisine has largely been mistakenly labeled as Cajun cuisine (due to Cajunization and CODOFIL).
- 1 Overview
- 2 Classic Creole dishes
- 3 Creole cooking methods
- 4 Ingredients
- 5 Creole dishes
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Creole cuisine is the food culture of Louisiana centered around colonial influences of pre-United States Louisiana, but not limited to it. Creole cuisine is often mistaken by non-Louisianians as Cajun cuisine. Cajun cuisine is the cuisine of the descendants of Acadians that settled Louisiana from French Canada. Creole cuisine on the other hand, is the cuisine found in the greater New Orleans area, as well as in sections of the rural area of Acadiana. It shares many dishes with Cajun cuisine, but is often characterized by its extensive use of tomatoes in similar dishes. In many areas where Creole culture and Cajun culture coexists, Creole and Cajun cuisine techniques and dishes are often intermixed and blended into one Louisiana style cuisine. Creole cuisine involves the colonial influences of the French, Spanish, West Africans, Native American Indians, Acadians, Germans, the Caribbean and the American South, as well as the additions of Italian and Irish influences in New Orleans. The French influences were in the use of rouxs, sauces, seasonings and cooking techniques found in French cooking. The Spanish influence was in the use of bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes that is still found in Creole cuisine today. Bell peppers, garlic and tomato forms the base for the cuisine of Spain. Jambalaya is actually a dish of Spanish-Louisiana heritage that descends from the Spanish dish paella. The African influences were in the form of okra and rice, although the Spaniards also used rice as well. The Indigenous Native American people of Louisiana introduced sassafras leaves, also known as filé, a thickening agent used in the Louisiana dish known as gumbo. Native Americans also influenced Creole cuisine in colonial times with the influence of hot peppers. Italians used extensive use of tomato sauces, pasta and bread crumbs, and arrived during the period when New Orleans was a popular destination for Italian settlers (roughly, 1815 to 1925). Many of them became grocers, bakers, cheese makers and orchard farmers, and so influenced the Creole cuisine in New Orleans and its suburbs. Creole cuisine also draws influences from Cajun influences as well.
The first French, Spanish and Portuguese Creole cookbooks date back to the era before the Louisiana Purchase. The first Creole cookbook in English was La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous For Its Cuisine, written by Lafcadio Hearn and published in 1885.
By that time Creole was already an identifiable regional cuisine recognized outside Louisiana: for example, an 1882 Florida hotel menu now in the New York Public Library's collection offered "Chicken Saute, á la Creole."
Starting in the 1980s, many Creole cuisine dishes began to be relabeled as Cajun cuisine. An example of this relabeling is by Chef Paul Prudhomme. A national interest in Cajun cooking developed, and many tourists went to New Orleans expecting to find true Cajun style dishes there (being unaware that the city was culturally and geographically separate from Acadiana). The "New New Orleans Cooking" of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse includes Creole and Cajun dishes. In his writings and TV shows, Lagasse both draws the distinction between the misnomer "Cajun" for Creole. 
With the rise of southern American Cooking in the 1980s, a New Creole (sometimes called Nouvelle Creole or Neo-American Creole Fusion) strain began to emerge. This movement is characterized in part by a renewed emphasis on fresh ingredients and lighter preparations, and in part by an outreach to other culinary traditions, including Cajun, Southern, Southwestern, and to a lesser degree Southeast Asian.
Classic Creole dishes
- Chicken Creole
- Creole Baked Chicken
- Crawfish étouffée
- Crawfish fettuccine
- Pompano en Papillote
- Red beans and rice
- Rice and gravy
- Sauce piquante
- Shrimp bisque
- Shrimp Creole
- Smothered Pork Chops
- Stuffed bell peppers
- Trout meunière
- Bananas Foster
- Bread pudding
- Creole cream cheese ice cream
- King cake
- Doberge cake
- Pecan pie
- Banana pudding
- Peach cobbler
- Blackberry cobbler
Creole cooking methods
- Barbecuing - similar to "slow and low" Southern barbecue traditions, but with Creole 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:
- 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 Creole cooking.
- Stewing, also known as fricassée.
The following is a partial list of ingredients used in Creole cuisine and some of the staple ingredients.
- Rice proved to be a valuable commodity in creole cuisine. 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
- Bell peppers
- Cayenne peppers
- Collard greens
- Mirlitons (also called chayotes or vegetable pears)
- Satsuma oranges
- Scallions (also known as green onions or onion tops)
- Sweet potatoes
- Tabasco pepper
Meat and seafood
Creole 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 is still uniformly popular in Creole cooking.
The recent increase of catfish farming in the Mississippi Delta has brought about an increase in its usage in Creole cuisine in the place of the more traditional wild-caught trout (the saltwater species) and red fish.
- Saltwater or brackish water species
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.
- Andouille - a spicy dry smoked sausage, characterized by a coarse-ground texture
- Chaurice, similar to the Spanish chorizo
- Ham hocks
- Wild boar or Feral Hog
- Head cheese
- 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
Beef and dairy
Though parts of the Louisiana where Creole cooking is found are well suited to cattle or dairy farming, beef is not often used in a pre-processed or uniquely Creole 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 unique dairy items produced in Creole cooking such as Creole cream cheese.
Other game meats
- Bay leaf
- Bell peppers (green or red)
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Onion (bell pepper, onion, and celery used together are known as the "holy trinity" of Creole cuisine.)
- Parsley, flat leaf
- Sassafras leaves (dried & ground into the spice known as filé for gumbo of the Choctaw)
- Dried shrimp
- Sugarcane, also cane syrup, brown sugar and molasses
- "Creole spice" blends such as Tony Chachere's and REX King of Spice are sometimes used in Creole kitchens, but do not suit every cook's style because Creole-style seasoning is often achieved from scratch, even by taste. Whole peppers are almost never used in authentic Creole 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 Creole meals.
- Marinades made with olive oil, brown sugar, and citrus juices
- Various barbecue rubs similar to those in other states
Creole rouxs in New Orleans are known to be lighter than Cajun rouxs and are usually made with butter and/or bacon fat and flour. But there are times when you will find dark rouxs among Creole cooking for certain dishes. Dark rouxs are usually made with oil and/or bacon fat and flour. Creole cuisine inherited the roux from the French. 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. 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. 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. 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.
- Medium roux: Medium rouxs are probably the most common among the Creole cuisine of the New Orleans area. They work well with most Creole dishes. A medium roux should be the color of a copper penny or red brick.
- Dark roux: Preparation of a dark roux is a very complicated procedure. It involves heating oil and/or 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.
- Stocks: Creole stocks may be more heavily seasoned than Continental counterparts, and the shellfish stock sometimes made with shrimp and crawfish heads is unique to Creole cuisine.
- Fish stock and Court-bouillon
- Shellfish stock
- Chicken stock
Gumbo - Gumbo is the quintessential stew-like soup of Louisiana. The dish is a Louisiana version of the French bouillabaise, but is made with okra, in which the dish gumbo is named for. The name "gumbo" is derived from the French term for okra, which entered Louisiana French from West African languages as "gombo", from the West African "kilogombo" or "quingombo". Okra which can be one of the principal ingredients in gumbo recipes is used as a thickening agent and for its distinct vegetable flavor. In modern Louisiana cuisine, okra is not a requirement any longer, so gumbos can be made either with or without okra. Often gumbo that is not made with okra, is made with a louisiana spice called file', a spice made from ground sassafras leaves. Chicken gumbos are often made without okra and made with file' instead. Tradition holds that a seafood gumbo is more common in summer months when okra is plentiful and a chicken or wild game gumbo in winter months when hunting is common. But of course, in louisiana, a variety of different gumbos are eaten year long.
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 mainly used. A medium roux, or a dark roux, which is made of flour, toasted until well-browned, and fat or oil are the usual choices.
Jambalaya - a most beloved of Louisiana dishes is the classic Creole dish named 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) 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. Jambalaya is a dish of Spanish origin in Louisiana from the time when Spaniards were attempting to make their beloved dish "paella" in the new world. The dish has later evolved, going through a creolization of Louisiana influences.
Shrimp Creole - Shrimp creole is a favorite of Creole cuisine in the greater New Orleans area. It's a dish made of shrimp, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and cayenne pepper. Classic shrimp creole does not contain a roux, but some cooks may add one. It's an early creole dish that shows it's strong French and Spanish heritage.
Red Beans and Rice - Red beans and rice is one of the most common dishes found in New Orleans, cooked in homes and restaurants throughout the New Orleans area. Red beans arrived with white French Creoles from Haiti that escaped Haiti during the slave uprising. They settled in New Orleans, bringing the red bean with them. The wonderful stew of red beans, created in the New Orleans style is a dish concocted in the kitchens of New Orleans and has a strong Caribbean influence.
Rice and gravy - Rice and gravy dishes are a staple of Creole 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.
Food as an event
The crawfish boil is a celebratory event that involves the boiling of crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn in large pots over propane cookers. The crawfish boil is an event central to both creole and cajun cuisines. 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 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.
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- Beggs, Cindy, Gipson, Bridget, Shaw, Sherrie. "Cajun and Creole Cuisine." University of West Florida. Accessed July 2011.
- The full text and page images can be found at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.
- "Windsor Hotel" restaurant (Jacksonville, Florida) menu dated January 5, 1882, item: "Chicken Saute, á la Creole"
- Emeril Lagasse, Emeril's NEW New Orleans Cooking, William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-11284-6
- "Eat". Lafayettetravel.com. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
- Reed, David W. "Smothered Meat With Rice and Gravy". Texas A&M University. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
- "Smothered seven steaks". WAFB. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Rice and Gravy". Realcajunrecipes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
- "Smothered rabbit with mushrooms". Louisiana Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Smothered Turkey Necks in Onion Gravy". Chef John Folse & Company. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Chicken Fricassee". Allrecipes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-28.
- The full text and page images of Lafcadio Hearn's La Cuisine Creole can be found here at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.
- The full text and page images of Célestine Eustis's Cooking in Old Creole Days can be found here at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.