Cajun cuisine (in French: Cuisine cadienne) originates from 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, skillet cornbread, or some other grain dish, and the third containing whatever vegetable is plentiful or available.
The aromatic vegetables bell pepper, onion, and celery are called by some chefs the holy trinity of Cajun cuisine. Finely diced and combined in cooking, the method is similar to the use of the mire poix in traditional French cuisine — which blends finely diced onion, celery, and carrot. Characteristic seasonings include parsley, bay leaf, "onion tops" or scallions, and dried cayenne pepper. The overall feel of the cuisine is more Mediterranean than North American.
Cajun cuisine developed out of necessity. The Acadian refugees, farmers rendered destitute by the British expulsion, had to learn to live off the land and adapted their French rustic cuisine to local (i.e. Louisiana) ingredients such as rice, crawfish, and sugar cane. Many households were large, consisting of eight to twelve people; thus, regardless what other vocations may have been followed by the head of household, most families also farmed. Feeding a large family, all of whose members did hard physical work every day, required a lot of food. Cajun cuisine grew out of supplementing rice with white meat, game or other proteins were available such as crawfish or any other type of river creature.
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. See Misconceptions below.
Game (and hunting) are still uniformly popular in Acadiana.
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, gaspergou, croaker, and bream.
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.
High on the list of favorites of Cajun cooking are the soups called gumbos. Gumbo exemplifies the influence of African and Native American food cultures on Cajun cuisine. The word originally meant okra, which is a word brought to the region from western Africa. Okra, which is a principal ingredient of many gumbo recipes, is used as a thickening agent and for its distinct vegetable flavor.
A filé gumbo is thickened with sassafras leaves after the gumbo has finished cooking, a practice borrowed from the Choctaw Indians. The backbone of a gumbo is a dark roux, which is made of flour, toasted until well browned, and fat or oil, not butter as with the French. The classic gumbo is made with chicken and the Cajun sausage called andouille, but the ingredients all depend on what is available at the moment.
Another classic Cajun dish is jambalaya. The only certain thing that can be said about a jambalaya is that it contains rice and almost anything else. Usually, however, one will find green peppers, onions, celery and hot chile peppers. Anything else is optional.
Attendees are encouraged to "suck the head" of a crawfish by separating the abdomen of the crustacean and sucking out the abdominal fat/juices. The practice is known by the common phrase is "Pinch the tail, suck the head." Other popular practices include kissing the tail section of a soon-to-be-cooked crawfish, leading to the vulgar phrase: "Kiss my ass, suck my head, eat me." The phrase has been printed on shirts and posters in years past.
Often, newcomers to the crawfish boil or those unfamiliar with the traditions are jokingly warned "not to eat the dead ones." When live crawfish are boiled, their tails curl beneath themselves. When dead crawfish are boiled, their tails are straight and limp.
Seafood boils with crabs and shrimp are also popular.
The traditional pig-slaughtering party, or Boucherie, where Cajuns would gather to socialize, play music, dance, and preserve meat does still occur in some rural communities, especially St. Martinville, but the exploitation of every last bit of meat, including organs and variety cuts in sausages such as 'boudin' (sometimes spelled boudain) and the inaccessible bits in the head as head cheese is no longer a necessity.
Cajun dishes prepared outside of Louisiana are often hotter and more heavily seasoned than their Louisiana counterparts, missing the flavor of the original dishes. Even andouille sausage, mild and smoky in Louisiana, gets the pepper treatment elsewhere. This is partially a result of the "Cajun" foods craze of the 1980s, when Cajun-style seasoning was popularized by chef Paul Prudhomme's creation of the very spicy dish called Blackened Redfish at his New Orleans restaurant "K-Paul's". It is also a result of recent "extreme" food fads, where many items are hotter than the originals.
Outside of southern Louisiana, foods prepared using Cajun-style seasoning are called Cajun, including some decidedly non-Cajun dishes such as red beans and rice, and blackened redfish. Sometimes the label is applied incorrectly to any dish including traditional Cajun ingredients such as cayenne pepper, or merely as a slogan, as in McDonalds' "Spicy Cajun McChicken".
Chefs trained in Louisiana, as well as Louisiana raised chefs can and do duplicate the original tastes successfully elsewhere, especially since the advent of mail-order ingredient deliveries. However, the buyer should beware that what may be a perfectly palatable dish may not be strictly "authentic".
Cajun cuisine is sometimes confused with Creole cuisine, and many outside of Louisiana don't make the distinction. Creole is more city – urban, cosmopolitan, and inspired by the French, Spanish, African, and Italian influences of New Orleans – while Cajun dishes have more of a French influence, filtered through common (to Louisiana) ingredients and techniques. This matter is complicated by the sharing of several dishes between the cuisines, including gumbo, gumbo z'herbes (a vegetarian gumbo), seafood à l'étouffée, and jambalaya, although New Orleans jambalaya and gumbo are prepared differently from their Cajun counterparts.
Further complicating this is that the term Creole is used to designate several somewhat distinct New Orleans food cultures. So-called 'haute-creole' cuisine was influenced in the past few decades by Cajun food as Creole restaurants such as Commander's Palace and K-Paul's created a distinct "Cajun-Creole fusion" cuisine combining Cajun flavors with Creole ingredients and preparation. Dishes rooted primarily in the New Orleans metropolitan area such as po'-boys, barbecued shrimp, or red beans and rice are in general Creole, not Cajun, as are most dishes involving a cream sauce or the French mother sauces.
Want to feel like royalty? ; This weekend's three-day wine fest features:t A five-course meal that includes lobster, guinea hen and elkt A trolley tour that visits four historic homes (and, of course, includes wine and food at each stop) t A taster's party with wines of all persuasions.
Aug 13, 2008; By Karen Cotton firstname.lastname@example.org Thursday through Saturday treat yourself to a fine wine experience at the Cheyenne Depot...