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Platter with Crab Legs, Crawfish Étouffée, Shrimp Gumbo, Shrimp, Corn, and Potatoes
Cajun cuisine (in French: Cuisine Acadienne) is named for the French-speaking Acadian or "Cajun" immigrants deported by the British from Acadia in Canadamarker to the Acadiana region of Louisianamarker, USAmarker. 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 Creole and Cajun cuisines. 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, "green onions" or scallions, and dried cayenne pepper.

When the Cajuns arrived in Louisiana around 1768, Louisiana was already occupied with European Slave Owners and African Slaves. The African Slaves were rice growers from West Africa, they were expert farmers, domestic workers and cooks. The Louisian Cuisine was actually already developed in the homes of the European Slave Owners. The Acadian refugees, who largely came from what is now modern-day New Brunswickmarker and Nova Scotiamarker, were farmers rendered destitute by the British expulsion, and had to learn from the African and Native American Slaves to live off the land and adapted their French rustic cuisine to local (i.e. Louisiana) cuisine and the ingredients used in the already developed cuisine of the African Slaves, 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 where available such as crawfish or any other type of river creature. Other than African cuisine, French, Spanish and Indian culinary influences can also be detected in Cajun food. Another hallmark of the Cuisine of the African Slaves who developed the cooking styles in Louisiana was the art of smoking food. Smoking techniques were developed by the Native Americans and African Slaves who came from nomadic cultures. Asian Indians have also influenced Cajun cuisine, as a number of chefs were of Asian Indian descent. The purpose of smoking meat was to render a longer life onto the foods for the long journeys ahead. These techniques of smoking were adapted to the Louisiana Style of cooking and is still used today in Creole and Cajun Cuisines.

Cajun methods of preparation

  • Barbecueing - similar to "slow and low" Texas barbecue traditions, but with Cajun seasoning.
    • Smoking - indirect dry heat taught to the Cajuns by the Native Americans and African Slaves.
    • 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
      • Charbroiling - direct dry heat on a ribbed surface, fastest of all variants.
      • Griddling - direct dry or moist heat along with the use of oils and butter on a flat surface, also fastest of all variants.
    • Braising - combining a direct dry heat charbroil 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
  • Étouffée - cooking a vegetable or meat in its own juices, similar to braising or what in New Orleans is called "smothering".
  • Frying, also known as pan-frying.
  • Injecting - using a large syringe-type setup to place seasoning deep inside large cuts of meat.
  • 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. See Misconceptions below.

Cajun ingredients

The following is a partial list of ingredients used in Cajun cuisine and some of the staple ingredients of the Acadian food culture.

Grains



  • 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 feral 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 Iberiamarker.
  • Wheat (for baking bread)


Fruits and vegetables



Meat and seafood

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 and redfish.
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, gaspergou, 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".
  • Chaurice, similar to the Spanish chorizo
  • Chaudin - a pig's stomach, stuffed with spiced pork & smoked. Also known as ponce.
  • Ham hocks
  • 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



Seasonings



Individual

Blended
  • "Cajun spice" blends such as Tony Chachere's 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, and not butter, and it is used as a flavoring, especially in gumbo and étouffée. Preparation of a dark roux is probably the most involved or complicated procedure in Cajun cuisine, 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. 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.
  • 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

Noted by the popular Hank Williams' Jambalaya song, three of the primary dishes in Acadiana are "Jambalaya and-a crawfish pie and filé gumbo." One variation is that crawfish boils are more popular today than crawfish pies.

Primary favorites

Gumbo soup
Boudin



Boudin (sometimes spelled "boudain" in Texas) is a type of sausage made from pork, pork liver, rice, garlic and green onion, 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 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.

Gumbo



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.

Jambalaya

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 pepper, onions, celery and hot chile peppers. Anything else is optional.

Food as an event

Crawfish boil
Louisiana-style crawfish boil

The crawfish boil is a celebratory event where Cajuns boil crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn over large 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 Zatarain's, Louisiana Fish Fry or Tony Chachere's. Also, Cocktail sauce, mayonnaise and hot sauce 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. 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.

Boucherie

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. Martinvillemarker, 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.

Other dishes and sides

Boudin balls


Non-Cajun dishes

This is a listing of dishes sometimes mistakenly called Cajun:

List of Cajun or Cajun-influenced chefs

Notes

  1. This technique can be dangerous. Some safety precautions can be found at


See also




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