cajun-cooking1When people from out side of Louisiana think of Cajun or Creole Cuisine, the first thing that may come to mind is heat — something that is so hot it will make you sweat. This may be true for some dishes, but that is a small number. When South Louisianans think of food, they think of flavor. Cajun or Creole Cuisine is a blend of fresh proteins, well rounded spices, vegetables, and herbs to be flavorful, not just spicy. So, next time you think of Cajun or Creole Cuisine, do not think heat and sweat, think about flavorful dishes that make you crave more.

No matter if you travel from Avoyelles Parish south to Vermilion Parish or from Acadia Parish east to Orleans Parish, you will find someone who can either cook a Cajun meal or Creole meal, and probably both. Yes, there is a difference in Cajun Cuisine versus Creole Cuisine. This difference goes way back to when the first group of settlers came to South Louisiana. The Creole Cuisine comes from the Caribbean Creoles who settled in what is known as present day New Orleans. And they wanted to maintain some of the cooking techniques learned in their homeland, these were people who had the means to eat this type of food. These were dishes that were very rich, made with cream, shallots, herbs, and spices. These sauces were used to top oysters, fish, or shellfish. They also ate a lot of baked goods like pastries, breads, and cakes. This cuisine was referred to as city cooking.

cajun-cooking3On the other hand, Cajun Cuisine derived from Acadians who started to settle in the areas west of New Orleans. These people did not have the means for expensive ingredients, so they had to live off the land. They learned how to adapt to the environment to sustain themselves. This cuisine was usually cooked in one pot using vegetables, rice, fish, shellfish and strong spices. This cuisine has remained the same and is accepted as America’s only truly ethnic food creation.

Present day Cajun and Creole Cuisine is somewhat different even though the same principals of cooking were used back in the 1700′s. Since the first settlers in these areas started cooking, the cuisine has evolved thanks to the seven different nations that inhabited the land: Native Americans, French, Italian, English, Spanish, German, and African. These diverse groups contributed to the distinct dishes that are cooked in South Louisiana today. These dishes were a product of the knowledge of these nations combined with the abundance of natural resources available to South Louisiana either from its land or water.

cajun-cooking2South Louisiana is blessed with many different crops such as rice, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and okra to name a few. There is also the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays where you can catch fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters. South Louisiana also has an abundance of swamps and marshes where turtles, frogs, rabbit, deer, crawfish, ducks and geese can be found. When you combine the abundant amount of resources with the unique herbs and spices, you get a cuisine that people just can not get enough of.

So when thinking of Cajun or Creole cuisine remember the spice should be second. Flavor is always first. Cajun dishes such as jambalaya, sauce piquante, gumbo, etouffee and chicken stew should be about flavor. When you think of Creole Cuisine dishes like Oysters Bienville, crawfish bisque, and shrimp romoulade remember the same. These two cultures have evolved and melded into a place where good food and friends are a part of everyday life, and it will continue in that direction for as long as the Cajun and Creole people are around.

Cajun Dictionary:

AH C’EST BON
What most people say about Cajun cuisine. Translates to “Oh, that’s good!”

ANDOUILLE
Cajun sausage made from pork meat, pork stomach and seasonings. Used for flavoring gumbos, jambalayas, beans and other dishes.

BISQUE
A popular thick stew, roux based, usually made with crawfish. The carcass carapace of the crawfish is stuffed with the meat of the tails, seasonings and bread crumbs.

BOUCHERIE
Before freezers and large refrigeration, families or group of neighbors would get together to butcher the fatted calf or pig and divide the various cuts of meat among the participants. If it was a pig being slaughtered Cajun dishes such as boudoin, hogshead cheese and cracklings were usually made.

BOUDIN OR BOUDOIN
Light brown in color, one of the more popular Cajun sausages is made with rice and pork meat. Eating cracklings with boudoin is almost a must or with cush cush and syrup.

BOULET
A Cajun meatball made with anything from ground beef, shrimp or garfish. Usually has various seasonings and a small amount of flour for flavor and browning.

CAYENNE
A hot pepper that is dried and used to season many Louisiana dishes.

CRACKLINS
These are generally made at the Boucherie by deep fat frying the pork skin that has fat and meat attached. The cracklins are then flavored with a mixture of salt and peppers. Some people call pork rinds cracklins. Cracklins go really well with boudoin.

CRAWFISH
A small red crustacean that resembles a lobster and is the base of many famous and delicious Cajun dishes. Sometimes spelled “crayfish” but always pronounced crawfish. Known locally as “mudbugs” because they live in the mud of freshwater streams. They are served in a variety of ways, including boiled, fried, and in etouffée.

DEBRIS
A dish made combining the leftover parts of the animal such as the liver, spleen, intestines and the like with lots of onions. It has a delicate flavor and is served over rice.

ETOUFFÉE/ ETOUFFE/ ETOUFEE
Cajun term for smothered meat or seafood, cooked with a roux and the Cajun “Holy Trinity” (onions, celery, and bell pepper). Usually served with rice. The term is derived from the French verb “etouffer”, which means “to smother or suffocate.” This dish does not use any roux. Probably one of the more popular Cajun dishes.

FRICASSEE
A thick Cajun stew made with roux and any type meat. If you were using pork this stew would also have potatoes in it. Chicken is probably the most popular meat used.

FRUITE DE MER
Fruits of the sea referred to oysters, crabs, shrimp, fish or anything else fished from the waters. Also refers to a plate of food with a combination of seafood.

GREEN ONIONS
One of the more popular Cajun herbs. Green onions are most commonly called onion tops by the Cajuns.

CRACKLINS
Fried strips of pork skin, often including pieces of meat and fat. Snack food.

GUMBO
A Cajun/Creole delicacy of South Louisiana, reflecting its rich history: wild game or seafood (from the Acadians), thickened with okra (from the Africans), file (from the Indians), and roux (from the French). Called a “brown soup”, gumbos are made with just about any meat you can find. Meats such as duck, chicken, blackbirds, pork or deer sausage, tasso, Andouille sausage or seafood can be used singly or in any combination.

JAMBALAYA
A hearty dish of South Louisiana origin featuring a choice of meats (ham, sausage, shrimp, chicken, tasso), cooked with Trinity, tomato, and rice.

LAGNIAPPE
A little something extra that is free. In the old days, you would get a piece of glassware when you purchased oatmeal.

MARDI GRAS
Fat Tuesday – The celebration with food, beads and a parade to signify the approaching leaner times. “Throw me something Mister” are the most used words that day.

MIRLITONS
Commonly called a vegetable pear or chayote squash, it is used to make pickles for gumbos and rice and gravy or eating right out of the jar.

OKRA
A vegetable with green pods that originated in Africa that can be used to make gumbo or smothered down as a side dish. . Gumbo is also the Cajun French word for okra.

PIROGUE
A small wooden boat used in the marsh, bayou or swamp for fishing or getting to the duck blind. If it was filled with beer there was a wedding going on. It is usually rowed or poled through shallow water.

POISSON
Cajun word for Fish. Popular eaten fish included as catfish, redfish, and garfish.

ROUX
The most classic Cajun creation. Flour cooked in fat (butter, oil or lard) until it is brown with a nut-like flavor and aroma. Used as a thickening, coloring, flavoring base for pot foods, like gumbos, gravies, sauces, and soups. May be light gold (for fish and other delicate ingredients) to very dark for hearty dishes. The popular phrase, “First you make a roux” is used to create dishes such as gumbo, fricassee stews, courtbouillion, and sauce piquant, even spaghetti sauce and other dishes.

SAUCE PIQUANTE
A fiery-hot, thick, reddish gravy made with roux and tomatoes, combined with alligator, chicken, pork, sausage, game or tasso, highly seasoned with herbs and peppers, and simmered for hours.

SMOTHERED
The process of “cooking down” food is where the volume is reduced to a smaller portion.