I’m Tommy Centola, the Creole Cajun Chef. I was a lifelong resident of New Orleans until August 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. My wife Peggy and I relocated to Searcy.
As much as I loved my new hometown, something was missing. The food in the restaurants was not what I was used to eating. Having been cooking since I was 8 years old, I started looking for local sources of seafood, Andouille sausage, Zataran’s products and other New Orleans ingredients to cook at home.
Throughout the years, my new friends started to ask me for some of my recipes. In 2011, I started a web page www.creolecajunchef.com to post two weekly recipes. In August of that year, my cookbook, “You Can’t Keep New Orleans Out Of The Cook”, was published. It has been a continuing labor of love.
When the editors of The Daily Citizen asked me if I was interested in writing a column on New Orleans food, I was flattered. I am always happy to share my knowledge.
So, what is New Orleans cuisine? When I first started my blog, I was asked how do I define New Orleans cooking and the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine. Here was my response:
When people outside of Louisiana think of New Orleans cooking, most 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 Native American 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 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 of the 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 Prix in traditional French cooking, which blends finely diced onion, celery and carrot. Characteristic seasonings include parsley, bay leaf, “onion tops” of 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 on their sauces, herbs and Creole spices. Both Creoles and Cajuns have battled for centuries over the authorship of most notable dishes as filé gumbo, crawfish étouffée and jambalaya. While Cajuns specialize in the preparation of game meats such as alligator, possum, turtle and the like, Creoles have been dally in game meats too, especially turtle…as in turtle soup, however, they don’t advertise the fact.
In the last 1800s, large number of immigrants fromSicily began to settle in south Louisiana. Many stayed in New Orleans to establish businesses. With the arrival of the Italians, the Creoles cultivated a love of garlic. It’s sensuous, sultry presents is encountered just 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.
Let’s get cookin’. Here are two Jambalaya recipes demonstrating the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking:
Creole Sausage Jambalaya
1 pound Smoked Sausage, cut into bite sized pieces 1/3 cup Onions, diced 1/4 cup Celery, diced 1/4 cup Green Bell Pepper, diced 1/4 cup Garlic, minced 2 tablespoons Olive Oil 1 quart Beef Stock or Broth 1 8oz. Can Tomato Sauce 4 tablespoons Creole Seasoning 2 tablespoons dried Basil 2 tablespoons dried Oregano 1 tablespoon Paprika 2 cups Rice
In a 6 quart pot over medium heat, cook sausage, onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add stock, tomato sauce and dry seasonings. Bring to a boil. Add rice and bring back to a boil. Cover and lower heat to low. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.
Cajun Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
2 pounds Andouille Sausage, slice in bite size pieces 2 1/2 pounds bonelessss skinless Chicken Thighs, cut into bite sized pieces 4 cups Onions, diced 12 tablespoons Garlic, minced 1 pound Tasso, cubed 3/4 tablespoons fresh Thyme Leaves, whole 3/4 tablespoons fresh Basil, chopped 1/2 tablespoon Coarsely Ground Black Pepper 1/2 tablespoons White Pepper 1/2 tablespoon Red Pepper Flakes 5 1/3 cups chicken Stock 2 3/4 cups Long-Grain Rice 1 tablespoon fresh Parsley, chopped
In a 2 gallon dutch oven over high heat, cook sausage, stirring constantly so the sausage does not burn. Add the chicken and brown on all sides, stirring constantly. Browning the sausage and chicken should take about 10-15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic.; sauté for about 15 minutes or until the onions are very limp and clear. Add the Tasso, thyme, basil and peppers. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium and gently break up the rice. Use a spoon to stir and scrape the bottom to insure that no rice sticks to the bottom. After about 5 minutes, fold in the parsley. Continue to scrape the pot. When the jambalaya returns to a boil, reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer, for at least 25 minutes.