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Cajun Cuisine

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Cajun cuisine is a form of cooking that originated in Louisiana, USA. It is a mix of French, Canadian, African and Native American influences. Cajun cuisine is a style of cooking named for the French-speaking Acadian people deported by the British from Acadia in Canada, to the Acadiana region of Louisiana. It is what could be called a rustic cuisine; locally available ingredients predominate and preparation is simple. A Cajun meal is usually cooked in three different pots. One pot is used for the rice or cornbread, another is used for vegetables and the third is used for the main dish. Onions, celery and bell-peppers are basic ingredients in Cajun cuisine. The seasonings used are mainly cayenne pepper, parsley, bay leaf and scallions.

There is a common misconception that Cajun cuisine is eye-wateringly hot. Although the food usually has a kick to it, it is not nearly as hot or spicy as, for example, a curry. A delicate balance of peppers is what the good Cajun cook strives for. The different peppers are mixed to add flavour, not to add heat. Cajun cuisine is a simple form of cooking. It does not involve exotic or expensive ingredients and is simple and brown in appearance. The food was originally born out of necessity and has stuck to its original form for decades. At its most basic, it is a type of stew. The word gumbo, which describes a range of stews prepared in South Louisiana, comes from West Africa and means "okra", the main ingredient in the stews.

Gumbo is the quintessential stew-like soup of Louisiana. The dish is a Louisiana version of the French bouillabaise, but is made with okra, which the dish gumbo is named for. The name "gumbo" is derived from the French term for okra, which entered Louisiana French from West African languages as "gombo", from the West African "kilogombo" or "quingombo". Okra, often one of the principal ingredients in gumbo recipes, is used as a thickening agent and for its distinct flavour. In modern Louisiana cuisine, okra is not a requirement any longer, so gumbos can be made either with or without okra. Often gumbo that is not made with okra is made with a Louisiana spice called filé, a spice made from ground sassafras leaves. Chicken gumbos are often made without okra and made with filé instead. Tradition holds that a seafood gumbo is more common in summer months when okra is plentiful and a chicken or wild game gumbo in winter months when hunting is common. But of course, in Louisiana, a variety of different gumbos is eaten year long.

A filé gumbo is thickened with dried sassafras leaves after the stew has finished cooking, a practice borrowed from the Choctaw Indians. The backbone of a gumbo is roux of which there are two variations mainly used. A medium roux, or a dark roux, which is made of flour, toasted until well-browned, and fat or oil are the usual choices.

Jambalaya a most beloved of Louisiana dishes is the classic Creole dish named jambalaya. The only certain thing that can be said about a jambalaya is that it contains rice, some sort of meat (such as chicken or beef) or seafood (such as shrimp or crawfish) and almost anything else. Usually, however, one will find green peppers, onions, celery, tomatoes and hot chilli peppers. Anything else is optional. Jambalaya is a dish of Spanish origin in Louisiana from the time when Spaniards were attempting to make their beloved dish "paella" in the new world. The dish has later evolved, going through a creolization of Louisiana influences. Jambalaya is a highly seasoned rice casserole.

Shrimp creole is a favourite of Creole cuisine in the greater New Orleans area. It's a dish made of shrimp, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and cayenne pepper. Classic shrimp creole does not contain a roux, but some cooks may add one. It's an early creole dish that shows its strong French and Spanish heritage.

Red beans and rice is one of the most common dishes found in New Orleans, cooked in homes and restaurants throughout the New Orleans area. Red beans arrived with white French Creoles from Haiti who escaped Haiti during the slave uprising. They settled in New Orleans, bringing the red bean with them. The wonderful stew of red beans, created in the New Orleans style, is a dish concocted in the kitchens of New Orleans and has a strong Caribbean influence.

Rice and gravy dishes are a staple of Creole cuisine and are usually a brown gravy based on pan drippings, which are deglazed and simmered with extra seasonings and served over steamed or boiled rice. The dish is traditionally made from cheaper cuts of meat and cooked in a cast iron pot, typically for an extended time period in order to let the tough cuts of meat become tender. Beef, pork, chicken or any of a large variety of game meats are used for its preparation. Popular local varieties include hamburger steak, smothered rabbit, turkey necks and chicken fricassee.

Bread Pudding a dessert made from day-old or stale French bread. A popular Creole and Cajun dessert that also contains eggs, milk, cinnamon and vanilla.

The crawfish boil is a celebratory event that involves the boiling of crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn in large pots over propane cookers. The crawfish boil is an event central to both creole and Cajun cuisines. Lemons and small muslin bags containing a mixture of bay leaves, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper and other spices, commonly known as "crab boil" or "crawfish boil" are added to the water for seasoning. The results are then dumped onto large, newspaper-draped tables and in some areas covered in Creole spice blends, such as REX, Zatarain's, Louisiana Fish Fry or Tony Chachere's. Also, Cocktail sauce, mayonnaise and hot sauce are sometimes used. The seafood is scooped onto large trays or plates and eaten by hand. During times when crawfish are not abundant, shrimp and crabs are prepared and served in the same manner. Attendees are encouraged to "suck the head" of a crawfish by separating the abdomen of the crustacean and sucking out the abdominal fat/juices.

Often, newcomers to the crawfish boil or those unfamiliar with the traditions are jokingly warned "not to eat the dead ones". This comes from the common belief that when live crawfish are boiled, their tails curl beneath themselves, but when dead crawfish are boiled, their tails are straight and limp. Seafood boils with crabs and shrimp are also popular.