Cajuns have a culture and cuisine that separates them from the rest of the world. But what makes the food stand out above the rest? Perhaps it is best explained as food that comes from the heart or “comfort food.”
Cooking is not only meant to feed us; it is an art form that tells a story of our heritage from our ancestors passed down through the generations.
One of the most significant reasons Cajun food is so good is the amount of love put into each pot of food. We take pride and joy and put our heart and soul into every bit of flavor. When you eat Cajun food, you feel every ounce of love pour out as the cooks enjoy the smiles on people’s faces. It is a mutual feeling.
Most Cajun dishes are centered around crawfish, shrimp, crab, oysters, and other shellfish. Traditional cooking techniques and savory spices are used to make these dishes aromatic and flavorful.
Where Do the Flavors Come From?
Each Cajun dish has what we call “the trinity.” It is the basis of all the flavors and consists of celery, onions, and bell peppers. There is still more to it than the trinity.
Other items that make the flavors pop are garlic, green onions, scallions, and parsley. It is a wide variety of herbs that gets thrown into the pot. Real Cajuns do not measure the amount of seasoning or herbs and spices added to the pot.
It is difficult to explain, but it is felt as you go along with the food, almost as though you are dancing and leading that pretty girl ahead in the steps. Everything is nearly fried in every meal with oils or fat with the choice of meats. Everything is seasoned well before it is thrown into the pot.
As the meat cooks, it forms a caking at the bottom of the pot. This is the base of every beautiful rice and gravy. Cajuns have a way to make a rusty brown gravy with almost any type of meat available to cook.
It is a skill or tradition that our grandparents passed down the traditions as the newer generations add to the flavors. Experiments take place as each cook has their own signature flavor added to the mix.
Cajuns and Spice
There is a slight misunderstanding when people think of Cajun cuisine. Many people think our food is spicy. To some degree, it may be a tad bit too much heat for those not used to spices. Our dishes are more flavorful than added heat.
Red pepper, black pepper, and other spices make up the heat, but it is all proportioned so delicately that the flavor overrides the heat. If you are familiar with chemistry, that is what Cajun cooking is. Knowing the right mixture makes Cajun food stand out above other cultures.
There are hundreds of types of Cajun seasonings, but our favorite would probably be Tony Chachere's. Some cooks mix their own seasonings, but Tony Chachere’s seasoning is perfectly made and can stand on its own with any dish.
You may ask, what exactly do Cajuns cook? The answer is simple, anything and everything. Most of our famous dishes are gumbo, rice, gravy, Jambalaya, and anything with crawfish and seafood.
Gumbo is a mixture of flour and oil, the base that makes a roux. It is critical not to burn the flour and oil mixture, and the cook should be ready to stir for quite some time. The longer it cooks, the darker the mixture gets to make the base of the juice.
Some of the meats that go into a pot of gumbo are chicken and sausage or seafood. Different areas put tomatoes in gumbo. This is a Cajun mortal sin. Cajuns do not put tomatoes in gumbo.
The meats boil and simmer for several hours, and the trinity and other cuts of herbs and vegetables are added closer to the end of cooking. The bowl is almost like a soup in texture, but the roux adds a rich and hearty flavor like no other. Some people eat gumbo with a little bit of rice while others prefer to mix in potato salad.
Rice and gravy:
Any type of meat can be used to make rice and gravy. Most people like pork, chicken, or beef. First, the meat is either marinated or seasoned well before it is browned. Rice is cooked in a rice cooker or on the stove at the discretion of the cook. The meat is browned or fried on all sides before water is added.
Most rice and gravy dishes are with braised or stewed meat. As the seasons are fried in with the meat, a rusty brown liquid forms at the bottom of the pot. This is the base of the gravy and is worked in with the meat as it cooks. The trinity is added after the meat is browned, and water is added to cover the meat.
The water level should remain over the meat at all times while simmering, and once the meat is tender, the rice and gravy are ready to enjoy. Some good ideas for sides to go along with the meat, rice, and gravy are corn, beans, or other sides of choice.
Jambalaya is another favorite in South Louisiana or Cajun Country. Some people like it with chicken and sausage, pork, or seafood. The base is cooked like rice and gravy with the meat frying or browning. The best way to describe Jambalaya is just throwing everything in the pot and have a field day with the whole thing.
Some people cook the rice separately, while others who are more experienced with cooking rice on the stove can cook the rice in the mixture or base. The rice will soak up the flavor and color of the gravy mixture. The texture, color, and flavors will carry its famous entrée style as it all cooks together.
Crawfish and shrimp are some of the Cajun favorites when it comes to seafood. Blackened fish also is a favorite made famous by well-known Chefs like Chef Paul Prudhomme and Chef John Folse.
When it comes to seafood, crawfish pies, Fettuccine, fried seafood, and others are a real treat to the culture. Like any type of meat, the seafood is seasoned well for flavor. It is something to make your mouth water. Many also will add smoked meats like sausage or andouille sausage. It is always about the taste.
The Culture Makes the Flavor
Cajun hospitality is like no other in the world. We love to feed our neighbors, family, and friends. It is tough to figure out who gets more pleasure, the cook or the people enjoying the cuisine. Both get a thrill out of each side of the fence.
As mentioned earlier, love would be the secret ingredient that makes Cajun culture pop. It drives people who are curious to visit the South Louisiana area. There is only one thing to be warned, anything above Interstate 10 or outside of the region is not always Cajun, even though it may say it on the package.
We are one culture like no other, and we are authentic and unique. If it is not wrapped and served in love, it is not all Cajun.