If you look around on the internet, you will find quite a few sites that talk about Cajun cooking and Creole cooking. Invariably, they attribute Cajun food to Louisiana as if it worked it’s way along the coast from there. The truth is, that traditional Cajun cooking derived from the diversity of people that inhabited the Gulf coast during it’s European settlement, principally, the Acadians that came down from Canada and the Native Americans they interacted with, sprinkled in with some Spanish and a few Africans. To be sure, there is a large population of French Canadian descendants now in Louisiana, but the first group were a hardy bunch of explorer’s and entrepreneur’s that arrived with the LeMoyne brothers Iberville and Bienville. They first built a small port in what is now Ocean Springs before building more permanent settlements to the east in what is now Dauphin Island and Mobile (although the original site of that city is north of its present location.) Eventually, Acadian settlements were also established toward the west including New Orleans and other Louisiana cities. My direct ancestor, Jean Baptiste Badreau de Graveline was among the first group of men that came down with the LeMoynes and the French influence he and his fellow frontiersmen left along the coast remains today. I live in South Alabama, and Cajun food is the bedrock of our meal plans. The terms Cajun and Creole are often used as synonyms when referring to favorite coastal dishes, but there are some differences. Creole cuisine was more heavily influenced by Spanish and African cooking and is often much spicier. Creole recipes today are often more refined and involve lengthier cooking processes and involve multi dish meals. Cajun meals are often one pot wonders. Both styles are favorites along the coast and both vary widely in how they are prepared and how they taste depending on the cook and local ingredients most available.
Some Cajun Cooking Terms
A traditionally Cajun sausage made with pork, garlic, pepper, onions, and seasonings. Here in Lower Alabama, we prefer Conecuh sausage.
A favorite spicy Cajun sausage that also has rice in it. I’ve heard of it being made with gator meet, but I’ve never tried it prepared that way.
This refers to the three favorite ingredients used in most Cajun dishes – chopped onions, chopped bell pepper, and chopped celery. Garlic is also usually added later so that it is not overcooked.
These tasty tidbits are fried pork rinds, a delicious snack on their own, but really delicious in cornbread. They are denser than the puffed rinds you can buy on the potato chip isle of your local grocery store.
This dish sounds awful, but is really delicious. The name comes from the look the rice takes on when it is cooked with browned meat such as sausage or hamburger meat. Add field peas and you have Hoppin’ John, a traditional New Year’s Day dish.
These are Cajun or Creole dishes smothered down with onions and often tomatoes. It usually has seafood in it like crab, or shrimp but can be made with other meats such as chicken.
Filé /fee-lay/ powder
This seasoning was traditionally made by grinding sassafras leaves with a mortar and pestle. It flavors and thickens soups and stews.
This is a dish usually made with chicken or veal in which the meat is browned and then a white sauce is made using flour and the juices from the meat. It is usually served over rice or with homemade biscuits.
Known as “fond’ to some cooks, gradoux is the Cajun term for the delicious bits of meat and drippings gunked up on the bottom of the pot after browning meat. It is a flavorful addition to many dishes and makes a wonderful base for gravy.
Thin medallions or cubes of beef or pork, peppered and salted, dredged lightly in flour and cooked down in a covered pan with a bit of oil, onions and other seasonings and the whole thing is served over rice or grits.
A soup thickened with roux and flavored with garlic, onions, bell pepper, celery and sometimes okra. File is usually added along with bay leaves and other spices. Every gumbo varies based on the meats available and the texture of the roux. Some people also add tomatoes to the gumbo.
A seasoned rice dish with meat or seafood cooked right in. This is not a dish, it is the word Cajuns use for just that little something extra.
Roux is the base for most soups and sauces in Cajun dishes. It is simply flour browned with oil or shortening. The darker the roux the richer the flavor. Roux thickens and flavors dishes.
Sauce Piquante /pee-KHANT/
This tomato based sauce flavors any meat or seafood you can imagine. The tomatoes can be canned or fresh, stewed or diced. There is also a lot of onions, garlic and other spices included along with a light roux for flavor and thickening. Sauce piquante is usually served over rice.
Heavily spiced cured pork meat that is often used in gumbo, jambalaya and other Cajun dish.
Seasoning must Haves
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
Zatarain’s Complete Crab Boil
Zatarain’s Gumbo Base
Louisiana’s Pure Crystal Hot Sauce
Garlic cloves or minced garlic in a jar (convienence over optimal flavor for everyday cooking)
Peppers (mild to super hot) fresh or dried
Fresh onions and green onions
Filé powder (This is ground sassafras leaves. If you are lucky enough to know someone who still makes it homemade with mortar and pestle, you are in heaven.)
(The first four seasoning mixes can be substituted with your own combination, but for convenience, these have the most authentic Cajun flavor in my opinion.)