Friday, April 14, 2017
My Five Favorite Cajun Dishes
I know that most of the stuff I have posted over the years has been political in nature. That's not what I originally started out to do, but here we are. Since I have been living in Louisiana for over six years now, I have eaten a ton of Cajun food, and gained about 35 pounds to show for it.
I certainly have my issues with Louisiana. Lousy infrastructure, anti-union politicians and assaults on reproductive rights. However, sometimes you just have to put the politics aside, and sit down for a meal with people you disagree with.
If you haven't been to Louisiana, or if you've just visited New Orleans, there is a lot you're missing in the culinary scene. The northern part of the state has some Cajun-influenced food, but it is more of a Southern food scene that is as much Cajun as Trump is a legitimate president. The southern part of state from Alexandria on down to the Gulf is a region divided by Cajun and Creole styles of food.
There is a difference between Cajun and Creole, even though there are similarities which aren't obvious to Louisiana food novices. New Orleans is predominately Creole, while Lafayette and areas west of the Mississippi are mostly Cajun. Creole is influenced by the Carribean, Africa, France, Spain, Italy and other places. Cajun is predominately...well...Cajun.
New Orleans has seen wave after wave of various influences on the culinary scene over the centuries. Cajun food in the Acadiana region has some Spanish and Native American additions, and it is also divided into "prairie Cajun" versus "swamp Cajun" subsets, as I like to refer to them as. An example of this is gumbo. In areas in the northern region of Acadiana, gumbo is primarly chicken and sausage based. As you go further towards Houma and the Gulf of Mexico, seafood-based gumbo is more common due to the proximity to the ocean.
It took me a little while to learn about these differences, and to choose which styles I liked the most. In case you're wondering, I settled on Creole, due to the fact they use more vegetables in their dishes, something Cajuns seem to be hesitant about.
With that explanation of local foods out of the way, here are my five favorite foods in Louisiana, specifically in Cajun country.
5. Gumbo: Gumbo is not an easy dish to make from scratch, and my years in the restaurant industry didn't prepare me for making the Louisiana version of roux. When I make it myself now, I make my own which requires constant stirring to keep it from burning. Many people here use roux out of a jar, or use vegetable oil and flour to make it, which isn't ideal to me. I use butter or bacon fat instead of oil, and my roux isn't the color of used motor oil either.
I prefer seafood gumbo, but you can make a good sausage and chicken gumbo with andouille sausage, and a rotissere chicken from a deli if you want to cut corners. The best gumbo has shrimp, crab and oysters - and I think mixing sausage with seafood overpowers the delicate taste of the ocean.
4. Boudin: There are many sources for boudin around Louisiana. My favorite comes from Charlie T's in Breaux Bridge, especially if they are served their smoked boudin. Some places load their boudin down with cayenne pepper and liver, which is just nasty in my opinion. On a cold winter morning, a link from your local gas station and a cup of coffee will make your day right.
3. Etouffee: Crawfish etouffee is a Louisana staple. It is a tomato-based sauce usually with crawfish or shrimp, and I prefer mine spicy. I make a roux, add a can of Rotel, as well as some ghost pepper, and a little bit of fish sauce. That's my little Asian flair to the dish, and most people here love that version of it. I also add my favorite Cajun seasoning, Beazell's, which is lower in sodium and has spices other local seasonings do not.
2. Fried pork chops: Pork chops are good, but have you ever eaten one fried and put on a sandwich? I don't eat this very often because of all the fat and cholesterol, but it is magically delicious. Take a pork chop, bread it and fry it, then remove the bone and put it on a sandwich bun with pickles, mustard and tomato slices. Eat one of these at breakfast and you won't be hungry until dinner.
1. Oyster Bar Trash: This is a dish I encountered when I worked at Landry's. It's shrimp and lump crab meat blackened on a grill, then served over rice with lemon butter. I like to add mushrooms, and you can also add scallops if you're feeling fancy.
These are just five of my favorite things to eat down here. There's is also fried alligator and crawfish boils, but you'll just have to come down here to try them for yourself. Bon appetit!