With Mardi Gras festivities officially underway in New Orleans on Feb. 24, it seems only fitting that we let the good times roll with a better understanding of Creole and Cajun food. The spicy delights of both cuisines are finding their way into my current cookbook project, which is creating a family cookbook collection of regional American foods.
The last time I was in New Orleans (or Nawlins, Nola, N’orluns, if you prefer), I attended a wedding. It was some time ago, and I managed to sneak away from the pre-nuptial activities one morning to have breakfast at Brennan’s. It is still the most expensive single off-the-menu breakfast I have ever eaten, and it was glorious.
While dining in New Orleans, it never really bothered me that various dishes I ate while there mostly came from two very different French-speaking cultures: Creole and Cajun. While I’m not going to discuss the history of the region, suffice to say that Creoles are considered descendants of immigrant colonials from Spain and France, while Cajuns are descended from French Canadian exiles.
Their two very different origins make for some very interesting dishes, some that I’m including in my family cookbook collection. Here are some ways to tell the difference between Creole and Cajun food:
Characteristics of Creole Food
– Spanish/French colonial influence with African and Italian undertones
– From cosmopolitan city dwellers (The French Quarter)
– Rich glorious sauces made with herbs and mild spices
– Lots of butter, cream and high-end ingredients
– Jambalaya will be reddish and made with tomatoes
– Not usually hot in spice intensity
– Can be quite showy, colorful
Characteristics of Cajun Food
– French Canadian influence with French and Southern undertones
– From country swampland dwellers who fish, trap and hunt (The Bayou)
– Features local victuals, such as alligator, possum, turtle
– Ingenious rustic gravies made with inexpensive ingredients (port fat, spices, fresh garden patch pickings)
– Jambalaya will be brown, without tomatoes
– Usually hot in spice intensity, and may be blackened
– Generally modest one-pot food, plain and simple
As I’ve said, which cuisine I eat is of little matter to me as long as it tastes good. And I haven’t had a single thing in New Orleans that I didn’t like. I can’t wait to add several more Creole and Cajun recipes to my new family cookbook collection of regional American foods. I bet you might enjoy doing the same thing!