cajun,gumbo,zydeco,louisiana,bayou,creoleA Little Cajun/Creole History  
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South Louisiana is a land of culinary diversity as a result of it's unique history. Colonial settlers arriving from France and Spain were called Creoles. They combined their fine European cooking skills with techniques influenced by Negro and Indian cultures. In the mid-eighteenth century, French Catholics expelled from Nova Scotia, called Acadians, migrated to South Louisiana and settled in the area west of New Orleans - today's Acadian region. Descendants of these Acadians are known as Cajuns. The mingling of these two groups, along with a sprinkling of German and Italian settlements, resulted in a unique blend of people known for their love of good food and their resourcefulness in using the abundant seafood, game and raw products of this sub-tropical land. Cajun food is one of the "hottest" cuisines around -- not because it tastes hot, but because it tastes good. Whether it's jambalaya, gumbo or etouffee, Cajun food is one of the things tourists look forward to the most when they visit New Orleans. In fact, Cajun food represents a natural lesson in the history of Louisiana. Over the years, Louisiana has had strong influences from many cultures, including Indian, Spanish, French, Acadian, African, and Italian. Cajun food has evolved over the centuries as each ethnic group added it's own special touches to the local cuisine. Today's Cajun food is so much more than simply adding hot sauce -- it's the melding of the flavors of many cultures into one.

Creole heritage is best reflected in a black iron pot filled with steaming aromatic gumbo. Gumbo, a dish with the consistency of soup, is essentially a dark brown roux to which has been added stock, seafood or meat, and seasonings. Many kinds of meat and seafood are used in the preparation of gumbo. A sausage commonly used in gumbo in South Louisiana is andouille (pronounced awn-doo-ee), a coarsely ground pork sausage highly flavored with onion and garlic. Andouille is usually combined with other ingredients in gumbo such as oysters or chicken. Traditional thickening agents for gumbo are okra and file,. The definition of gumbo is "a soup thickened with okra pods." During summer months when fresh okra is plentiful, many South Louisiana cooks prepare and freeze garden-fresh okra and tomatoes for later use in gumbos. Sliced okra is combined with other gumbo ingredients and cooked along with the gumbo. File, (pronounced fee-lay) is crushed and dried leaves of sassafras that adds a distinctive taste to gumbo. It was used by the Choctaw Indians long before the first settlers arrived in Louisiana. Unlike okra, file, should never be cooked with the gumbo or the finished gumbo will be stringy. File, is sprinkled over the gumbo as it is served. FILE, is a finely ground, aromatic seasoning which will add authentic Creole taste to your gumbo.

Gumbo is traditionally served in large flat soup bowls over mounds of hot rice or with rice on the side. A much smaller bowl of gumbo served as a first course will give the most simple meal a gourmet touch. Each native South Louisiana family has it's favorite gumbo recipe, the secrets of which are sought by gourmets the world over.

Rice, seafood and seasonings repeatedly appear in the foods of South Louisiana. Jambalaya is a rice main dish made with almost any meat or seafood and most often combines several kinds of each. Highly seasoned with onions, herbs and pepper, it is a delicious way to serve bits of leftover meats. Long ago, jambalaya was cooked outdoors in large, black iron pots over open flames and stirred with boat paddles. This is true even today at many of the fairs and festivals of the area. Served with garlic-buttered French bread and tossed salad for a meal you will want to repeat time and time again. After all, jambalaya is delicious enough to have a song written about it.

In Southwestern Louisiana, rice dressing, or "dirty rice," takes precedence over jambalaya. Rice dressing is traditionally made with a combination of ground meats -- beef, pork and/or giblets. After it is cooked, rice dressing may be tossed with chopped green onion and served with roast meat or fowl, barbecued meats or fried chicken. In fact, many of the fried chicken outlets in South Louisiana offer rice dressing on their menus as an alternative to the usual mashed potatoes. Rice dressing may be used as stuffing for turkey, chicken or other meats as well as such vegetables as peppers and eggplant.

No fried seafood dinner in South Louisiana is complete without hushpuppies. These are small balls of corn meal batter, seasoned and deep-fat fried. According to tradition, corn meal balls were first fried to be fed to noisy puppies disturbed by guests at a fish fry -- hence "hushpuppies" got their name.

Beignets (pronounced bain-yeas), or French market doughnuts, are pastry squares that are deep-fat fried and sprinkled with powered sugar. Traditionally served for breakfast or the very popular "morning coffee," beignets are enjoyable any time of the day or night. It is a custom in New Orleans to top off a night in the French Quarter with beignets and cafe au lait.

From an early morning beignet to a delightful piece de resistance in the evening,
provides for authentic culinary creations that will be long remembered.


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