Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Louisiana Culinary Dictionary Part Two

            About a month ago, we introduced the Louisiana Culinary Dictionary, a handy guide to Louisiana’s unique and sometimes confusing culinary traditions. The first post covered everything from andouille to Creole cooking. This week we’ll finish off our journey through Louisiana’s gastronomic landscape starting with Doberge cake and ending with Red Beans and Rice.

Doberge cake—The doberge cake was created by New Orleans baker Beulah Ledner in the 1930s. Ledner adapted the cake from the famous Hungarian Dobos cake that consists of nine cake layers separated by buttercream frosting. Ledner made several changes to the traditional recipe including swapping out the buttercream for a custard filling. Today some cakes have gone even further, alternating the custard with layers of chocolate pudding.  Ledner also topped the cake with either frosting or a hard shell of fondant.

Gumbo—Gumbo is a stew that came out of southern Louisiana during the 1700s. It consists of stock, a roux, the holy trinity (explained below), and traditional Louisiana proteins. Unsurprisingly Cajun and Creole gumbos differ slightly. Creole gumbo contains shellfish and tomatoes while Cajun gumbos omit the tomatoes and also include some type of game bird. After making a roux (done by pouring one part flour into one part oil or other fat cooking at a high temperature and mixed until a dark brown), you add the vegetables, then the meat and the dish simmers in stock for at least three hours. Gumbo is traditionally served over rice.  

Shrimp gumbo.jpg
A traditional gumbo 

Holy Trinity—The Holy Trinity of Cajun and Creole cuisine is onions, bell peppers, and celery. These three vegetables form the basis for the most famous dishes of Louisiana including gumbo and etouffe. The Trinity is related to mirepoix, the traditional blend of vegetables in French cooking that are the prerequisites for making soup, stock, stews, and sauces.  

Jambalaya—Jambalaya is a Creole dish descended from Spanish and French culinary traditions. It consists of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. The meat generally consists of smoked sausage (preferably andouille), and some other protein (pork, chicken, crawfish, or shrimp). Making jambalaya involves cooking down the holy trinity of vegetables, adding and cooking the proteins, then adding stock and the rice, and cooking until the rice is finished. Jambalaya is closely related to the Spanish paella, which undergoes a similar cooking process. There is also some variation in the different forms of jambalaya. A “red” jambalaya, which is traditionally found closer to New Orleans, includes tomatoes in addition to the holy trinity. The other more rural version of jambalaya, found in southwestern and south-central Louisiana, omits the tomatoes, creating what is known as a “brown” jambalaya—the meat is traditionally cooked in a cast iron pot giving it a more brownish tint.

King Cake— The king cake began as a dry French bread dough topped with sugar with a bean inside. Over the past several hundred years the king cake has evolved into a sweet cake covered with sugar and icing. The dough is now braided, stuffed with cinnamon, cream cheese, or other fillings. The cakes are circular and hollow in shape. The colors atop a king cake are the same as the ones of Mardi Gras—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.  King cakes also feature a small plastic baby hidden somewhere in or underneath the cake. The superstition being that the person who finds the baby is responsibility for bringing the next king cake.

The muffuletta 

Muffuletta—The muffuletta is a New Orleans sandwich introduced to the region by Italian immigrants. The sandwich rests on muffaletta bread, a traditional Italian style of bread similar to French bread but heavier, and is covered with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella cheese, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone.

Po’ Boy—A po’ boy is the Louisiana version of a submarine sandwich, also known as a sub, a grinder, a hero, or a hoagie. Po’ boys consist of a New Orleans style French bread (made most famous by Leidenheimer Baking Company). This type of bread is known for its crispy exterior and soft fluffy center. The fillings for po’ boys include roast beef, fried shrimp, crawfish, oysters, crab, or catfish. Typically you can order a po’ boy dressed or not. A dressed po’ boy includes lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise.

Pralines—French settlers to New Orleans began making their own version of this famous French dessert soon after their arrival in Louisiana. With plentiful amounts of sugar and pecans, New Orleanians replaced the traditional French almonds with pecans and added cream to thicken the mixture of nuts and sugar. The result was a dessert with a fudge-like consistency. Pralines are made by combining brown sugar, pecans, butter, and cream in a pot and stirring until the water has evaporated. The thick textured liquid is then dropped onto wax paper or aluminum foil in order to harden and cool.

Pralines cooling 

Red Beans and Rice—Perhaps the most famous of Louisiana’s Creole dishes, Red Beans and Rice is made up of red beans, the holy trinity, spices (typically thyme, cayenne, and bay leaf) and leftover pork, ham, or sausage (again, usually andouille) very slowly cooked together in a pot and served over rice. Tradition holds that Red Beans and Rice are always served on Mondays because Monday was the traditional wash day for women (who also did all of the cooking). As they did their backbreaking laundry work, poor women could start the dish at the beginning of the day and then ignore it for the rest of the day. Today, the dish is popular both in restaurants and for large family or social gatherings. This combination of easy preparation and flavorful ingredients help explain its enduring popularity.

             Now that we’ve come to the end of our Louisiana Culinary Dictionary, hopefully you have a little better sense of Louisiana’s most famous foods and maybe why we all love them so very much.  

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