Although Cajun food is rooted in small, rural regions of Louisiana, this humble cuisine is widely appreciated. Often confused with Creole cuisine -- another Louisiana specialty -- Cajun cuisine comes from the French Acadians, who relocated to Louisiana from Nova Scotia in 1785. The hallmark of Cajun cuisine is hearty, country-style cooking with ample seasoning and regional ingredients.
Dark Roux Dishes
Cajun cuisine is famous for its savory stew-like dishes made with dark roux. Cajun roux is a mixture of flour and oil or animal fat that slowly cooks to a deep brown color. The roux thickens and flavors dishes like étouffée, a classic Cajun dish of crawfish or other seafood smothered in a gravy-like sauce. Dark roux is also the signature ingredient in Cajun-style gumbo; Creole gumbo is made with tomatoes instead of dark roux.
White rice is a standard accompaniment to many roux-based Cajun dishes, such as étouffée. Cajuns also make a flavorful side dish called dirty rice, which combines the rice with chicken livers and other seasonings. Both Cajuns and Creoles are famous for jambalaya, a hearty rice dish made with meat or seafood. You can distinguish a Cajun jambalaya from a Creole version based on whether it contains tomatoes; Creoles typically include tomatoes while Cajuns do not.
Sausages and Cured Meat
Traditional Cajun sausages and cured meats largely evolved from the Acadians’ French heritage. Boudin blanc, a sausage made from pork and rice, is a typical Cajun snack. To eat boudin blanc, most diners use their teeth to pull the loose filling out of the casing. Andouille, a spicy smoked pork sausage, is a common ingredient in Cajun versions of jambalaya and gumbo. Many Cajun dishes also contain tasso, a lean cut of pork cured with smoke and spices.
Crawfish boils are prime examples of the casual one-pot meals that characterize Cajun cuisine. Although crawfish are a mainstay for Cajun seafood boils, shrimp and crab are other possible ingredients. The seafood cooks in a spicy broth, sometimes with andouille sausage, corn and potatoes. Many cooks have a favorite blend of crawfish boil spices, which they purchase as a packaged mixture.
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Spices and herbs are important to Cajun food, but not all Cajun dishes are hot and spicy. Instead, many people describe Cajun cuisine as being well-seasoned. Garlic, paprika, cayenne, thyme and parsley are all common Cajun seasonings. Filé powder, made from ground sassafras leaves, adds a distinct woodsy quality to some Cajun and Creole dishes. Both cuisines also use onion, celery and bell peppers as an aromatic base for many dishes.
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- The New Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- Real Cajun; Donald Link, Paula Disbrowe
- Huffington Post: Cajun vs. Creole: What's the Difference?
Lindsay Lau is a food writer and recipe developer with experience cooking professionally at both restaurants and catered events. As a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, Lau specializes in healthy cooking techniques.