Platter with Crab Legs,
Crawfish Étouffée, Shrimp Gumbo, Shrimp, Corn, and Potatoes
(in French: Cuisine
) is named for the French-speaking Acadian
or "Cajun" immigrants deported by the
British from Acadia
region of Louisiana
. It is what
could be called a rustic cuisine — locally
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
, and celery
called by some chefs the holy
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
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 Brunswick and Nova
Scotia, 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.
cuisine and the ingredients used in the already developed cuisine
of the African Slaves, such as rice
, 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
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
- Baking - direct and indirect dry heat in
a furnace or oven, faster than smoking but slower than
- Grilling - direct heat on a shallow
- 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
- 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
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
The following is a partial list of ingredients used in Cajun
cuisine and some of the staple
of the Acadian food culture.
- 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
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
(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
the Mississippi Delta
about an increase in its usage in Cajun cuisine in the place of the
more traditional wild-caught trout and redfish.
- 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,
gaspergou, croaker, and bream.
Beef and dairy
- 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
- 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
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
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.
- "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.
- Marinades made with olive oil, brown sugar,
and citrus juices
- Various barbecue rubs similar to those in other states
- 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
Noted by the popular Hank Williams
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.
(sometimes spelled "boudain" in Texas)
is a type of sausage
made from pork, pork
liver, rice, garlic and green onion
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
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.
High on the list of favorites of Cajun cooking are the soups called
. Gumbo exemplifies the influence of
African and Native American
cultures on Cajun cuisine. The word originally meant
, 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
, not butter
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 pepper
and hot chile
. Anything else is optional.
Food as an event
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,
, mayonnaise and
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
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.
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.
Other dishes and sides
- Potato Salad, generally made with
egg, potato, celery, onions, mayo, mustard and sometimes bell
- Gumbo des Herbes
- Couche Couche (Cajun corn mush)
- Boiled Crawfish
- Maque Choux
- Catfish (or Redfish) Court-Boullion
- Crawfish Étouffée
- Crawfish Bisque
- Hog's Head Cheese
- Various types of Sauce Piquante (Shrimp, Alligator, Turtle,
- Cochon de Lait
- Crawfish Pie
- Andouille sausage
- Dirty rice
- Rice and Gravy - usually a brown gravy
based on pan drippings, which are deglazed and simmered with extra
seasonings and served over steamed or boiled rice.
- Fried Frog Legs
- Pecan Pralines
- Tarte à la Bouillie (sweet-dough custard tarts)
- Seafood-stuffed Mirliton
- Cajun Rice
- Boudin balls - Boudin sausage filling that is rolled into a
ball, battered and deep fried, instead of being stuffed into pork
This is a listing of dishes sometimes mistakenly called Cajun:
List of Cajun or Cajun-influenced chefs
- This technique can be dangerous. Some safety precautions can be