Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Louisiana Culinary Dictionary: Part 1

            Louisiana has a rich and diverse culinary tradition, drawing upon influences from West Africa, the Caribbean, France, Germany, Italy, and a host of other places. Over the centuries, these cultures have fused to create a food landscape that can seem confusing to outsiders. Just what is in gumbo? What’s the difference between Cajun and Creole? What exactly is a praline? In an effort to help make things a little easier to understand, we’ve created a quick and easy reference guide to some Louisiana’s most popular dishes, foods, and cuisines. This week will cover everything from andouille to Creole and then next time we’ll tackle doberge cake to red beans and rice.  

Andouille— Andouille is a sausage made from pork, garlic, pepper, onions, wine, and other seasonings that was imported to Louisiana by the Acadians (French settlers deported from Canada as a result of the Seven Years War in the 18th century). Andouille is a staple of Creole cuisine and is known for being spicy. The town of LaPlace has two famous andouille makers—Jacob’s and Bailey’s and both are famous for their sausage.

Bananas Foster— Created by Paul Blange at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, this dessert is made from bananas and vanilla cream. It is covered in a sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The dish is a popular table side presentation at Louisiana restaurants since the butter, sugar, and bananas are cooked down and then the alcohol is added to the pan and ignited. The dish reflects Louisiana’s history as a major importer of bananas from Central America in the early 20th century.

BBQ Shrimp in all their glory. 

BBQ Shrimp— The name BBQ Shrimp is somewhat misleading since the shrimp are actually sautéed (cooked in a pan rather than over open flame) in a sauce consisting of butter and Worcestershire sauce. While you can find BBQ Shrimp at a number of New Orleans restaurants, Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter remains the best place to try out this local classic.

Beignets—Another French creation, beignets are a type of fried dough that are commonly served for breakfast while covered in powdered sugar. Although in New Orleans, breakfast foods can be eaten at any time of the day. When cooked correctly, beignets will puff up in frying oil leaving a delicious exterior and a soft fluffy interior. Café Du Monde in the French Quarter is still your best bet for mouthwatering doughnuts.

Boudin—The other type of famous sausage from Louisiana, Boudin is a white sausage made of pork, pigs liver, heart, and has rice stuffed into the casings. Boudin is more regionally specific than Andouille and is more typically found in the Acadiana region of Louisiana (Lafayette and Lake Charles amongst other areas).

The interior of Boudin. 

Cajun—Cajun specifically refers to the cuisine developed by the French settlers of Louisiana who were exiled from Canada during the Seven Year’s War. You will see them referred to by various terms including Cajun and Acadian (the region in Canada where they came from). Cajun cuisine tends towards simple, straightforward dishes cooked over a long period of time. The Cajuns tended to settle in areas outside of New Orleans in the bayous and other low lying areas around the Mississippi and Louisiana’s other rivers.

Crawfish Etouffee—Crawfish etouffee is a dish consisting of crawfish, rice, and a roux. A roux is flour and fat (generally butter) cooked together in order to thicken sauces. Etouffee in French means to smother. So at its most simple, the dish is like a thick stew consisting of crawfish and served over rice. The dish differs from gumbo (to be discussed next time) by featuring a blond rather than dark roux—a blond roux is cooked for less time than a typical darker roux and takes on a different flavor profile.  

Crawfish Etouffee 

Creole—The other famous type of Louisiana cooking, Creole cuisine blends French, Spanish, West African, Caribbean, German, Italian, and Irish influences. As each of these immigrant groups (voluntarily or not) arrived in Louisiana, they brought with them favorite ingredients and spices. As these groups interacted and shared their cooking their cuisines fused together. Famous Creole dishes include: crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, gumbo, turtle soup, red beans, and dirty rice. Green peppers, onions, and celery represent the so-called Holy Trinity of Creole cooking (to be discussed more next time) are essential to making most Creole cuisine.

So to be clear, Cajun cooking specifically refers to the French exiles from Canada and their culture and cuisine. Creole refers to the mixture of many more styles of cooking and is the more common and dominant of the two. We’ll be back next week to continue our look at the key parts of Louisiana’s culinary landscape. 

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