New Orleans Cooking
When most people think of New Orleans cooking, they automatically think of Cajun food. Well, they would be partially right. Creole food is typically misconstrued for Cajun fare since both come from the New Orleans area. While Cajun food is mostly found on the borders of New Orleans in the Bayou country, Creole food is normally found within the city limits. Creole cooking is the style of cooking that capitalized on the blending of recipes from the French, Spanish, African, and American Indian cultures.
Cajun cuisine developed out of necessity. The Acadian refugees, farmers rendered destitute by the British expulsion, had to learn to live off the land and adapted their French cuisine to local ingredients such as rice, crawfish, and sugar cane. Many households were large, consisting of eight to twelve people. Most families live on working farms. Feeding a large family, all of whose members did hard physical work every day, required a lot of food. Cajun cuisine grew out of supplementing rice with whatever meat, game or other proteins were available.
Some chefs call the aromatic vegetables bell pepper, onion and celery the holy trinity of Cajun cuisine. Finely diced and combined in cooking, the method is similar to the use of the mire poix in traditional French cuisine, which blends finely diced onion, celery, and carrot. Characteristic seasonings include parsley, bay leaf, “onion tops” or scallions, and dried cayenne pepper. The overall feel of the cuisine is more Mediterranean than North American.
When it comes to food, Cajuns generally like their foods hot, spicy, and/or blackened whereas Creoles pride themselves for their sauces, herbs and Creole spices. Both Creoles and Cajuns have battled for centuries over the authorship of most notable as File’ Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, and Jambalaya. While Cajuns specialize in the preparation of game meats such as alligator, possum, turtle, and the like, Creoles have been known to dally in game meats too, especially turtle…as in turtle soup, however, they don’t advertise the fact.
In the late 1800’s, large number of immigrants from Sicily began to settle in South Louisiana. Many stayed in New Orleans to establish businesses. With the arrival of the Italians, a new dimension was added to Creole food. From the Italians, the Creoles cultivated a love of garlic. Its sensuous, sultry presence is encountered just barely beneath the surface in many classic Creole dishes.
The most unique feature of Creole-Italian cuisine is its tomato sauce, commonly referred to as “red gravy” or “tomato gravy.” This rich sauce, used over meats and pasta, has dozens of variations from family to family. Some red gravies are based on a brown roux. Some contain eggplant. Others contain anchovies, whole boiled eggs, or meat. One consistent thread in red gravy is the addition of sugar to sweeten the sauce. Creole-Italians incorporate local fish and shellfish in their cooking with delicious results in dishes such as Crabmeat au Gratin, Shrimp Pasta, and many more.
Being half Italian, my cooking leans towards the Creole-Italian side. If you have ever spent any time in New Orleans, you can’t help but feel that it is the best place in the United States to eat.