Cajun cuisine is one of the most unique and culturally iconic of America’s regional foods. Its influence is seen throughout the Southeastern region of the US. Still, it traces its historical and cultural home to the State of Louisiana – which is one of the most iconic states in America’s culinary heritage. In this guide, we will learn all about Cajun-style cuisine and what makes it so iconic.
Cajun Cuisine: History and Cultural Influences
The history of Cajun Cuisine can be traced back all the way to the mid 18th century when Acadians – French immigrants who had settled in Canada- were deported by the British colonial government. Of the 14,000 deported Acadians, most relocated to Louisiana, where Cajun cuisine took root. The Acadian settlers based their cooking on the ingredients that were readily available in their new environment, which included a lot of seafood which was abundant in the Bay of Mexico and the Louisiana bayou. In time, culinary influences from the regions and other cultures such as Native American, African American, and Hispanic culture further shaped the Acadian’s culinary style into true Cajun Cuisine.
What Defines Cajun Cuisine?
While there is a lot of diversity when it comes to Cajun cuisine, its historical heritage and the locally available ingredients mean that there are some ‘staples’ that tend to be associated with Cajun cuisine. These include:
This is the single most defining characteristic of Cajun cuisine. The Louisiana region is defined by two key geographical features, the Gulf of Mexico on the Atlantic Ocean and the Louisiana bayou. Common seafood ingredients that feature heavily in Cajun-style dishes include crabs, oysters, catfish, shrimp, alligator, crawfish, and redfish.
Traditionally, Acadian cuisine was anchored by potatoes as the main starch food item. But the hot, swampy, and humid Louisiana climate was not favorable to their cultivation. Rice, on the other hand, thrives under these conditions, and as such, it is one of the key ingredients in Cajun cuisine.
This is a flour and fat, cooked mixture that is used to thicken soups. It came into Cajun cuisine thanks to its French influences. Unlike French roux, Cajun roux uses bacon fat and oils instead of butter.
Pork and Poultry
Apart from seafood, pork and poultry are the other key animal protein ingredients in Cajun cuisine. Pork is especially widely used to make sausages which are popular in Cajun cuisine. Chicken and turkey are the key poultry ingredients in Cajun cuisine.
Iconic Cajun Dishes
Three of the most iconic dishes in Cajun cuisine are:
Gumbo, arguably Cajun cuisine’s most popular dish, is a type of soup that can be made with a variety of ingredients. Its main ingredient is roux, and most recipes also include okra. ‘Classic’ gumbo either includes chicken or andouille sausage as the key ingredient.
Jambalaya is a Cajun dish that usually includes rice, meat (poultry, pork, or beef), and seafood.
This is a pork sausage that includes liver, rice, onions, garlic, and a variety of spices which are then enclosed in a natural casing.