Understanding the Rich History of Your Favorite Cajun Seafood Dishes
Food is history tasted. After all, the food you eat is an invention of your forebears, and reflects the culture and mindset of their time. And when it comes to history-rich food, there is no other cuisine quite like Cajun cooking, which mixes French styles with American ingredients, especially seafood. Below is a quick overview of the culturally significant dishes that have made this culinary tradition one of the most important ones in the country.
Crawfish étouffée is one of the most iconic Cajun dishes, in large part because of its main ingredient. The word étouffée (pronounced eh-too-fay) comes from the French term étouffer, which means “to smother.” It’s a very thick stew that’s perfectly seasoned and has generous portions of crawfish or other seafood. Similar to gumbo, it is served over rice, hence the name. However, it uses a different kind of roux or base, which is why it has a lighter “blonde” color.
History tells us that the étouffée was created in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, at the heart of what is commonly referred to as “Cajun Country.” In 1959, this area would be officially designated as “la capitale mondiale de l’ecrevisse” or “the crawfish capital of the world.”
Moving from one crawfish dish to another, the next item on the menu is the good old-fashioned crawfish boil. Traditionally served outdoors, a crawfish boil is an unhurried gathering where guests can leisurely enjoy the spread before them. Eating crawfish also has a very down-to-earth appeal because they are best eaten with the hands instead of utensils.
The crawfish are cooked in a huge pot along with potatoes, corn, and a special seafood mix. If you’re like most people, you’d like to wash down these tasty critters with a bottle of cold beer. Luckily, you don’t have to prepare this feast all by yourself, as there are Cajun restaurants here that serve crawfish by the platter.
Can a transport strike inspire the creation of a famed sandwich? Why, yes actually. The sandwich we’re talking about is none other than the po boy. It was created brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin, who were one-time streetcar conductors before opening the Martin Brothers' Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market in 1922. In 1929, local streetcar workers launched a strike, and naturally the brothers were sympathetic to their plight. To show their solidarity, they promised that: "Our meal is free to any members of Division 194…We are with you till h--l freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm."
As such, the brothers provided large sandwiches to the “poor boys” of the strike (hence the name). To do so, however, they could no longer use the traditional French bread, whose tapered ends led to a lot of wasted bread. Instead, they commissioned baker John Gendusa to develop a 40-inch rectangular bread loaf which allowed for the creation of 15 and 20-inch sandwiches. These days, the po boy can be made using alligator, shrimp, or crawfish meat, mixed with lettuce, tomato, and coleslaw.
Indeed, eating Cajun food is not just a culinary experience, it’s a trip down history lane as well. It’s a good thing, then, that Texas residents need not venture far to experience the rich history of Cajun cooking. These days, there are local restaurants that serve authentic Cajun seafood dishes in Houston. If you’re looking for some down-home comfort food, look no further than your own backyard!
History of the well-known Cajun-Creole dish, Crawfish étouffée., crescentcitycooks.wordpress.com
Crawfish Étouffée, neworleansonline.com
Crawfish Feast, bhg.com