In Louisiana, good times and good food are essential parts of the local culture. Special cooking isn’t reserved for birthdays and holidays — Cajun people food is enjoyed every day of the year.
If you make your way down to see this style of cooking done in person, you’ll discover a few things that distinguish traditional Louisiana dining…
Family and Friends
That’s right: it’s not some special ingredient or secret method, it’s family and friends. First and foremost, Cajun meals are historically intended to be enjoyed with friends and family. This is because sharing with others is a way of life for Cajun people, which goes back to their early ancestors in the Louisiana region.
This is why you may notice that this cooking usually involves enormous quantities of everything. Huge steaming pots of jambalaya and gumbo, pounds upon pounds of shrimp and crawfish. You’ll never leave hungry when you indulge in the best Cajun food Houston has to offer.
The style of cooking developed in the southern United States after Acadian immigrants fled from Canada in the 18th Century. Since the Acadians were quite poor, the original cultural dishes developed out of mere necessity. The first Cajuns on the scene in Louisiana also had large families, so it was important that they stretch their food stores as far as they would go. This is why economical rice is a staple found in so many dishes, along with easy-to-capture, fresh-caught seafood.
The tight-knit, family-centric culture of the early Cajuns lives on in the food and culture today.
Cajun vs. Creole
Creole cuisine is wonderful in its own right, but there’s a big difference between Creole food in New Orleans and authentic Cajun in the heart of the Louisiana country.
Authentic Cajun dishes suggest a home-cooked feel, as the resourcefulness of the original Cajuns lives on in their ancestors today.
The “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking are onions, celery, and bell peppers. They’re called this because they’re foundational to so many different dishes, such as gumbo, rice dressing, and boudin, one of Louisiana’s most iconic treats.
When it comes to meats, Cajun cuisine relies heavily upon pork, fish, and shellfish. Even though these meats are all raised and produced commercially now, wild-caught fish and game are still a hallmark of many Cajun meals. Besides the above traditional meats, alligator is also popular around Louisiana.
Spices in Cajun Cooking
Even for those people who have never tried Cajun food before, most people know about its reputation for being spicy. The holy trinity just mentioned — onions, bell peppers, and celery — add a lot of flavor to recipes when combined, but many seasonings are also used to add a kick. Two of the most prominent ones are garlic and cayenne pepper. These vegetables and spices were easy to grow for the early Cajuns, so they become recognized as an economical way to add intense flavor to foods. Even coffee is often spiced up by adding chicory root to it.
Many Louisiana recipes are quite spicy, true to tradition, but many other trademark dishes have a much more mild flavor, which means there’s something there for everyone.
First, Make a Roux
Any time you ask for instruction on cooking up a traditional Cajun recipe, more often than not the first instruction will be, “first, make a roux.”
A roux (pronounced roo) is a base for many dishes, made by combining flour, fat, water, and seasoning. It’s then used to make many Cajun dishes, including gumbo and stew.
The primary purpose of a roux is to thicken the consistency of a dish. Gumbo in particular benefits from this, as the goopy roux helps tie everything in the dish together.
Although simple on its surface, many Cajun cooks say that the Devil’s in the details when it comes to fixing up a good roux. Fortunately for home cooks, there are some decent roux mixes commercially available that only need water mixed in to make.
From its historical roots to its common roux base, this is what makes Cajun cooking special.