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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cajun cuisine

Cajun cuisine

Cajun cuisine originates from the French-speaking Acadian or "Cajun" immigrants deported by the British from Acadia in Canada to the Acadiana region of Louisiana, USA. It is what could be called a rustic cuisine — locally available ingredients predominate, and preparation is simple. An authentic Cajun meal is usually a three-pot affair, with one pot dedicated to:
  • the main dish,
  • steamed rice, skillet cornbread, or some other grain dish,
  • containing whatever vegetable .

The aromatic vegetables bell pepper, onion, and celery are called by some chefs the holy trinity of Cajun cuisine. Finely diced and combined in cooking, the method is similar to the use of the mire poix in traditional French cuisine — which blends finely diced onion, celery, and carrot. Characteristic seasonings include parsley, bay leaf, "onion tops" or scallions, and dried cayenne pepper. The overall feel of the cuisine is more Mediterranean than North American.

Many households were large, consisting of eight to twelve people; thus, regardless what other vocations may have been followed by the head of household, most families also farmed. Feeding a large family, all of whose members did hard physical work every day, required a lot of food. Cajun cuisine grew out of supplementing rice with white meat, game or other proteins were available such as crawfish or any other type of river creature.

Cajun methods of preparation

* Barbecueing - similar to "slow and low" barbecue traditions, but with Cajun seasoning.
* Boiling - as in boiling of crabs, crawfish, or shrimp, in seasoned liquid.
* Deep frying
* Étouffée - cooking a vegetable or meat in its own juices, similar to braising or what in New Orleans is called "smothering".
* Frying, also known as pan-frying.
* Grilling - faster than barbecueing.
* Injecting - using a large syringe-type setup to place seasoning deep inside large cuts of meat.
* Smoking - for flavoring, cooking or preserving meats.
* Stewing, also known as fricassee.

Cajun ingredients

The following is a partial list of ingredients used in Cajun cuisine and some of the staple ingredients of the Acadian food culture.

Grains


* Corn
* Rice — long, medium, or short grain white; also popcorn rice
* Wheat (for baking bread)

Fruits and vegetables

* Bell peppers
* Blackberries
* Cayenne peppers
* Celery
* Cucumbers
* Figs
* Limes
* Lemons
* Mirlitons (also called chayotes or vegetable pears)
* Muscadines
* Okra
* Onions
* Pecans
* Satsuma Oranges
* Scallions (also known as green onions or onion tops)
* Strawberries
* Sweet potatoes
* Tomatoes

Meat and seafood

Seafood

* Freshwater
o Bass
o Catfish
o Sac-au-Lait (white perch or crappie)
o Yellow perch
* Saltwater or brackish water species
o Trout
o Redfish
o Pompano
o Drumfish
o Flounder
o Grouper
o Perch - many varieties
o Snapper - many varieties
* Shellfish
o Crawfish- either wild swamp or farm-raised
o Shrimp
o Oysters
o Blue Crab

Poultry

* Farm Raised
o Turkey (and turkey confit)
o Chicken (and Guinea Hen)
* Game birds
o Dove
o Goose
o Quail
o Duck (and duck confit)

Pork

* Andouille - a spicy dry smoked sausage, characterized by a coarse-ground texture
* Boudin - a fresh sausage made with green onions, pork, and rice. Pig's blood is sometimes added to produce "boudin rouge".
* Chaurice, similar to the Spanish chorizo
* Chaudin - a pig's stomach, stuffed with spiced pork & smoked. Also known as ponce.
* Ham hocks
* Head cheese
* Gratons - hog cracklings or pork rinds; fried, seasoned pork fat & skin, sometimes with small bits of meat attached. Similar to the Spanish chicharrones.
* Pork sausage (fresh) - not smoked or cured, but highly seasoned. Mostly used in gumbos. The sausage itself does not include rice, separating it from boudin.
* Salt Pork
* Tasso - a highly seasoned, smoked pork shoulder

Beef and dairy
Though parts of Acadiana are well suited to cattle or dairy farming, beef is not often used in a pre-processed or uniquely Cajun form. It is usually prepared fairly simply as chops, stews, or steaks, taking a cue from Texas to the west. Ground beef is used as is traditional throughout the southern US, although seasoned differently.

Dairy farming is not as prevalent as in the past, but there are still some farms in the business. There are no unique dairy items prepared in Cajun cuisine. Traditional southern US and New Orleans influenced desserts are common.

Other

* Alligator
* Frog legs
* Nutria
* Rabbit
* Turtle (farm-raised)


Cajun dishes

Basic Favorites

Boudin
Boudin (sometimes spelled "boudain")[1] is a type of sausage made from pork, pork liver, rice, garlic and green onion, and other spices. It is widely available by the link or pound from butcher shops. Boudin is usually made daily as it does not keep well for very long, even frozen. Boudin is typically stuffed in a natural casing and has a softer consistency than other, better-known sausage varieties. It is usually served with side dishes such as rice dressing, maque choux, or bread.

Gumbo
High on the list of favorites of Cajun cooking are the soups called gumbos. Gumbo exemplifies the influence of African and Native American food cultures on Cajun cuisine. The word originally meant okra, which is a word brought to the region from western Africa. Okra, which is a principal ingredient of many gumbo recipes, is used as a thickening agent and for its distinct vegetable flavor.

A filé gumbo is thickened with sassafras leaves after the gumbo has finished cooking, a practice borrowed from the Choctaw Indians. The backbone of a gumbo is a dark roux, which is made of flour, toasted until well browned, and fat or oil, not butter as with the French. The classic gumbo is made with chicken and the Cajun sausage called andouille, but the ingredients all depend on what is available at the moment.

Jambalaya
Another classic Cajun dish is jambalaya. The only certain thing that can be said about a jambalaya is that it contains rice and almost anything else. Usually, however, one will find green peppers, onions, celery and hot chile peppers. Anything else is optional.

Crawfish boil
Louisiana-style crawfish boil

The crawfish boil is a celebratory event where Cajuns boil crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn over large propane cookers. Lemons and small muslin bags containing a mixture of bay leaves, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper and other spices, commonly known as "crab boil" or "crawfish boil" are added to the water for seasoning. The results are then dumped onto large, newspaper-draped tables and covered in spice blends. Zatarain's, Louisiana Fish Fry and Tex Joy are popular commercial blends. Cocktail sauce, mayonnaise and Tabasco are common condiments. The seafood is scooped onto large trays or plates and eaten by hand. During times when crawfish are not abundant, shrimp and crabs are prepared and served in the same manner.

Attendees are encouraged to "suck the head" of a crawfish by separating the abdomen of the crustacean and sucking out the abdominal fat/juices. The practice is known by the common phrase is "Pinch the tail, suck the head." Other popular practices include kissing the tail section of a soon-to-be-cooked crawfish, leading to the vulgar phrase: "Kiss my ass, suck my head, eat me." The phrase has been printed on shirts and posters in years past.

Boucherie
The traditional pig-slaughtering party, or Boucherie, where Cajuns would gather to socialize, play music, dance, and preserve meat does still occur in some rural communities, especially St. Martinville, but the exploitation of every last bit of meat, including organs and variety cuts in sausages such as 'boudin' (sometimes spelled boudain) and the inaccessible bits in the head as head cheese is no longer a necessity.

Other dishes and sides

* Potato Salad, a recent tradition is to serve with gumbo, and usually in it (generally plain, i.e. egg, potato,and mayo solely
* Gumbo z'Herbes
* Couche Couche (Cajun corn mush)
* Boiled Crawfish
* Maque Choux
* Tasso (meat product)
* Catfish (or Redfish) Court-Boullion
* Crawfish Étouffée
* Crawfish Bisque
* Hog's Head Cheese
* Various types of Sauce Piquante (Shrimp, Alligator, Turtle, etc.)
* Cochon de Lait
* Crawfish Pie
* Andouille sausage
* Dirty rice
* Rice and Gravy - usually a brown gravy based on pan drippings, which are deglazed and simmered with extra seasonings and served over steamed or boiled rice.
* Fried Frog Legs
* Pecan Pralines
* Tarte à la Bouillie (sweet-dough custard tarts)
* Seafood-stuffed Mirliton
* Brochette
* Tabasco Sauce
* Cajun Rice