Cajun: The Country Cooking Of Louisiana
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If you want to get a lively discussion going among New Orleans foodies, made a statement about the difference between Cajun and Creole cooking. Wherever the conversation goes, it will wind up with the same conclusion. Namely, that there is a distinction there, but it's impossible to explain exactly what it is.
The Cajuns are descendents of the French-speaking Acadians who were banished from Nova Scotia in the early 1700s. Although their heritage was French, like that of the people in New Orleans, the Cajuns' world and culture were unique. Unlike New Orleanians--who because of their busy port were connected with the whole world--the Cajuns were isolated farmers and fishermen in Southwest Louisiana. Until oil was discovered in Cajun country, they struggled to survive. They sold the best of their produce and seafood to pay the bills. Then they ate the rest. Making that secondary harvest taste good gave rise to the brilliance of Cajun cuisine.
Acadiana is a big enough place to show regional differences in its food. The most robust and interesting cooking comes from Opelousas, Henderson and Ville Platte. Milder but no less good forms of Cajun are found in Avoyelles Parish and along Bayou Teche and Bayou Lafourche. Most of this was served in homes and tiny cafes. Unalloyed Cajun food has only lately made its way into major restaurants. It had to be dressed up for the occasion, because a lot of it is pot food. Restaurants also tend to eschew the authentic ingredients in favor of things like baby white veal.
The man who changed all that was Chef Paul Prudhomme. Native of Opelousas area, Chef Paul is a full-fledges Cajun. But he moved far beyond the limits of traditional Cajun cookery. That’s what you get at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, the world’s most famous Cajun restaurant. Chef Paul inspired cooks all over the country to cook Cajun in the 1980s. That proved to be a vogue, however, and the Cajun culinary empire shrank back down to Acadiana. It is not easy to find it in New Orleans, where only a handful of places can claim to serve a full menu of the real thing--even though Cajun dishes are on almost all local menus.
Although there's a Cajun way to cook everything, the king of Cajun cookery is the crawfish. Crawfish are cooked in hundreds of ways, although boiled, etouffee, and bisque are the most popular ways to eat them. Another hallmark of Cajun cookery is the range of sausages and smoked meats from its many small butcher shops. That only lately has come to New Orleans, with Cochon leading that charge.
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