Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Louisiana Culinary Dictionary 2021 Edition

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 Ella Brennan 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— 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.

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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