Cajun and Creole Cuisine – Southern Louisiana Comfort Food
Having lived in New Orleans for several years my wife and I were able to experience firsthand that this jewel of the south is truly the ultimate melting pot. We found that the diverse Southern Louisiana culture ebbs and flows with the colorful music of blues, jazz and Zydeco as you also can’t help but be taken in by the rich ancestry that was influenced by the various French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Native American and African factions. The area is also home to the most unique of all American cuisines --- Cajun and Creole.
The area’s first settlers were the French and they were typically the second sons of aristocrats and were in search of adventure in this New World. From Europe they brought with them their traditional cooking style and being of wealth they transported their own personal chefs as well! These transplanted Frenchmen were known as Creoles and became the well-to-do of N’awlins. Today their descendents can still be found from the French Quarter to the Garden District.
Today Creole and Cajun cooking is often thought of as nearly interchangeable -- and while there are many similarities there are also pronounced differences. Creole cuisine sprung from the area's rich 18th century farmers' desire to develop their own majestic cuisine. Many of their original recipes were from France or Spain and when their classic French cooking techniques were combined with local foods they created their own signature cuisine – Creole cooking.
Conversely Cajuns are the descendents of French refugees transplanted to the area from Acadia, Canada. They lived outside the city, worked the land and formed a kindred spirit with the Germans, Spanish and Native Americans in the area. Cajun cuisine has a reputation as a filling country food, the result of the tough living conditions, and it’s frequently pungent and peppery. These single-pot creations were prepared from locally available ingredients into the likes of gumbos, jambalayas, soups and stews.
Both Creole and Cajun cooks are proficient at using available ingredients and experimenting with whatever seasonings they have on hand. The result is almost always unique -- no two jambalayas or gumbos are ever exactly the same, but like their area these dishes are always full of rich flavor and are equally delicious.
Generally speaking, Cajun dishes are Louisiana country cooking and are best known for gumbos, dirty rice, jambalaya, fried catfish and a spicy smoked sausage called Andouille (this is most commonly pronounced as ahn-do-wee). Cajun cooking features simple ingredients and pork fat is a staple in many dishes.
Creole cuisine, on the other hand, is considered city food and has the reputation of being the more refined with signature dishes such as Bananas Foster, Oysters Rockefeller, Crawfish E’toufee’ and Shrimp Remoulade. The wealthier Creoles used more expensive ingredients and butter was used in their recipes.
Both Cajun and Creole cooking have some key similarities and many dishes contain the New Orleans staples of cooking – celery, green peppers and onions. The base of many dishes is also closely related and is called the roux (pronounced Roo). Roux provides flavor and acts as a thickener for a dish. This base is simple flour cooked in fat --- Cajun dishes in pork fat and Creole in butter --- until it browns.
Other subtle differences – Cajun cooks prepare their sauce first and then add their meats as the last ingredients, typically seafood, and then serve it over rice. Creole recipes call for the sauce to be cooked separate and then added around and over the dish.
As the years go by Cajun and Creole cuisine continues to evolve and is now frequently just referred to as "South Louisiana Comfort Food."
What are the Essential Cajun and Creole Spices?
The area where both die hard Creole and Cajun cooks agree is that a dish should be full of flavor, but not so spicy hot as it overpowers the prefect blending of ingredients.
The signature Cajun and Creole Spices:
Black Caraway Seeds (nigella)
Coarse Black Pepper