Tuesday, July 13, 2010
“I would imagine there were clear lines and divisions 60 to 100 years ago,” says Chef John Reilly, who teaches at The Culinary Institute of America. But today the cuisines have blended so much that they’re difficult to differentiate, except by their origins. Cajun—often described as “country” food—originated with French-speaking people from Nova Scotia, called Acadians (and later “Cajuns”), who settled in southern Louisiana in the mid-1700s. As farmers with large families, Cajuns cooked one-pot meals made from whatever ingredients were available. Creole was considered “city” food, brought to New Orleans by the sons of aristocrats who left France in the early 1700s.
By the 1900s, Creole and Cajun cuisines began to blend, and today have more similarities than differences. Both include gumbo and jambalaya, but though each relies on seafood, Cajun uses crawfish or catfish while Creole recipes contain oysters, shrimp and crabmeat. Dishes in both begin with roux—a mixture of oil or butter with flour, used to thicken sauces. And both use what bayou gourmets call the “holy trinity”—onion, celery and green bell pepper. “It’s used in just about all their applications of cooking,” Reilly says.
To experience the cuisine, Reilly suggests an appetizer of gumbo or étouffée (from the French “to smother”; seafood covered in a tangy tomato-based sauce) and, for your meal, a shrimp or crawfish court-bouillon (a spicy stew with fish, tomatoes, onions and vegetables). To bring the flavor home, Reilly says, concentrate on the spices—cayenne, paprika, and black and white pepper.