For folks who don’t know what Cajun food is, it’s basically the cuisine of the Cajun people. These people originated in the south of France, emigrated to Nova Scotia and founded a colony called Acadia. The British kicked them out in the 18th century, and a lot of them fled to Louisiana.
As refugees, the early iterations of Cajun cuisine was practical, and consisted largely of dishes that could be cooked in one pot and anything that proved to be edible, including alligator. Blended with herbs and spices found in the Louisiana bayous, even the weirdest animal protein was transformed into a fantastically delicious and memorable meal.
New World Flavors
Besides alligator, the transplanted Acadians learned to catch local fish such as catfish, perch and bass and to hunt for possum, wild turkey, raccoon, deer and squirrel. The Native Americans taught them how to grow such New World staples as corn, potatoes, beans and rice while African Americans introduced them to okra and sugarcane. Gumbo, of course, is impossible without okra.
One type of animal protein found in Cajun food comes from the crayfish, crawfish or crawdaddies, as some southerners call them. It’s the “seafood” most people think of when they think of Cajun food, even though it’s inclusion in Cajun cuisine is fairly recent.
Let’s say the ones in the south are the Procambarus clarkii species. They’re eaten all over Louisiana and shipped to markets around country. They are a type of decapod and look like little lobsters, but they are never substituted for either lobsters or shrimp, for they have their own unique taste.
Some restaurants serve them all year long in such dishes as crawfish etoufee. Etoufee means smothered, which means the crawfish was cooked in a Cajun roux. Just about anything can be served Etoufee, including chicken, shrimp and rabbit.
Cajun roux is descended from the roux made in the Acadian’s native Poitou region of France. It is a staple of poor and working class people who didn’t have much in the larder and had to make what they had go a long way. Cajun roux comes in several types, from the mild light brown, medium brown, dark red-brown and black.
The mark of a great Cajun cook is to make a black roux without burning it. This takes skill and experience, for roux is not only easy to mess up, it is somewhat hazardous to cook. It requires flour being added bit by bit to sizzling hot oil. A knowledgeable cook uses a long handled spoon and stands well back from the pan.
A well-prepared Cajun meal is a work of art and will be remembered with pleasure for years to come. Have a taste of this sumptuous cuisine by visiting a nearby restaurant today.
Sources: Procambarus clarkii, animaldiversity.org