I know that some people may think of Cajun and Creole food as one in the same, and they do have some similarities, but there are some definite distinctions as well. First of all, knowing what we know about Cajun and Creole people, it will be easier to understand these differences.
Let’s start with the similarities.
Both styles of cuisine were influenced by the French, Spanish, Africans, Germans, Italians, Haitians, and Native Americans ( Houmas, Chetimaches, and Choctaw). The base ingredients were the same as well. The Cajun and Creole trinity (based on the French’s mire poux) consists of bellpepper, onion, and celery. I would be remiss not to tell you that garlic is the center of the culinary heavens and is most always included with the trinity. Andouille, seafood, wild game, vegetables, corn, and rice were also favored among both. In addition to that, both groups make use of the roux though the Creoles roux was usually lighter in color.
The distinctions of Creole cuisine begins with the social class. Creoles were able to bring in chefs and experienced cooks to to train their slaves and other staff to make use of the local ingredients. Their dishes are more refined; more precise. Their sauces were based around butter and cream and they typically used tomatoes in their dishes (Italian and Spanish influenced). They also usually had several light courses including desert and other baked items.
Traditional Cajun roux is made with pork fat which is why it could be made much darker where a butter would have burnt. In all, Cajun food is more rustic and earthy in nature and was most always made in one pot over an open fire. My mawmaw used to say that behind every good Cajun woman is a well worn black iron pot. In fact, traditionally speaking, it is an honor to inherit the black iron pot of a relative. Mine came from my grandma. And now, while it is considered to be a sin and a shame to sell one at a yard or estate sale, if you do find one and buy it then that is considered to be equally as precious as inheriting one. You never know the history of an iron pot and to consider the possibilities is just bliss! Cajuns are known for their “joie de vivre” or joy of living and that joy usually comes from gathering with family and friends to cook a good meal. All is centered around your black iron pot. If only they could talk!
Besides that, these black iron skillets come in handy for keeping your man in line. I’m totally kidding. Maybe.
I think it is also important to note the pure nature of Cajun cooking. At it’s core, Cajun cooking is creative and inventive. Since the Cajuns had learned to simply make do with what they had, by the time they made it to Louisiana they had acquired extensive knowledge, skill and experience in the art of basic survival. This ability lent itself to the natural ingredients and wildlife found here along with what they learned from the Natives and Africans to create what is now the traditional Cajun cuisine. It is important to note that while each dish has a basic set of bones (roux, Cajun trinity, etc), the additional foods that are “thrown in the pot” are whatever may be readily available at the time. No two gumbos or jambalayas are alike. Even the same families can create different variations of the dishes each time.
Based on the facts in the previous paragraph, this is how I can take any dish and make it Cajun. I learn recipes from others and use the ingredients that I have on hand to make new Cajun dishes. Dishes that may be served in Today’s Cajun Kitchen!
A general rundown of what came from where that inspired what is the southern Lousiana Cuisine of today:
- French: the DNA of the classics.
- African: The name “gumbo” comes from a Bantu word for okra, a key ingredient in many gumbo recipes.
- Native Americans: introduced filé, or ground sassafras, which is used to thicken and flavor stews. They also introduced to the Cajuns the art of smoking meats and the stuffing of vegetables and meat.
- The Spanish generally get credit for spicing up Louisiana cooking with red pepper. Our jambalaya is based on their paella.
- Germans brought the sausage-making traditions that remain essential to any Louisiana menu.
- Italians had so much influence on some of the dishes that a subset of Louisiana cuisine is known as Creole-Italian.
All in all Cajun food is some good stuff. If you have any questions then leave me a comment. I’ll do my best to answer. If you don’t have a question then comment anyway by telling me what your favorite dish is. Or how your day went. Or what new thing you learned.
Coming next, basic preparations for Cajun cuisine and how to make a roux – 3 ways!