What is Cajun Food? – Part 2
Our journey to discover what exactly Cajun food is continues in this second part of or blog. We will try to discover the use of spices in Cajun cuisine and settle an argument that all Cajun dishes are hot and spicy.
Is All Cajun Food Spicy?
When Cajun food became popular in Europe in the 1980’s, the European chefs at the time took certain liberties with the ingredients and served a sort of pseudo-Cajun cuisine. Often this included adding far too many dried chili’s to dishes like blackened redfish.
However, the reality of Cajun food is that they are highly seasoned, not just hot and spicy. The dishes are incredibly complex in terms of flavor with numerous fresh vegetables and smoked meats. Eating a properly prepared Cajun meal should leave the diner with a warm comfortable glow on the back of the throat, not a fire that has to be doused by numerous glasses of ice cold water in an effort to cool the diner down.
Do Cajun Chef’s Still Shop at the Swamp?
Cajun cuisine is quite famous for surprising diners with the odd special ingredient. But the truth is Cajun cooks have always sourced their ingredients locally, and for many Cajun’s this means the local swamp. Foraging is now a very popular pastime for Michelin Star chefs trying to prove how eco-friendly they have become. But for Cajun cooks that is what they have always done, swamp floor pantry is a term used by many Cajun food writers and chefs, and it means exactly what it says.
The swamplands were an excellent source to find many great ingredients such as sassafras which can be eaten fresh or ground into a powder, it often is the spice used in gumbos. Pepperworth and wild garlic could also be found in the swamp alongside wild catfish, frogs and turtles.
Will Cajuns Eat Anything?
There is a saying in the Louisiana Swamplands that if a creature does not eat you first, then it is good enough to eat. And it is quite true that the Cajun people will eat just about anything that runs, crawls, slithers, flies, swims or hops. They will take ingredients such as beavers, raccoons, turtles, snakes and turn them into a culinary masterpiece. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention, and when it comes to food the Cajun people are as inventive as they come.
Classic Cajun Dishes
The most popular Cajun dishes that you can find in Louisiana are Gumbo, Boudin, Jambalaya, Dirty Rice, Crawfish Boil, Crawfish Etouffee, Blackened Fish, and Beignet. As you can see by the names of the dishes many of these Cajun staple dishes are French inspired. And although Cajun is more rustic than Creole cooking, something like a Gumbo is a very intricate dish to prepare. Many of the dishes require a laborious Cajun roux (bacon fat, oil and flour) to thicken and flavor the sauce.
Cajun food is not all about spices and heat, it has many more factors and layers interwoven into it. You will find different ingredients in the dishes as you travel through Louisiana, but it is still unmistakably Cajun.