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THE HISTORY OF LOUISIANA COOKING
Everybody from Louisiana knows we have the best food in the country. No other state, with the possible exception of Hawaii, has created a cuisine so distinct, unique, and altogether delicious as we have — but you know that already. What you may not know is how this one-of-a-kind cuisine evolved into what it is today. Louisiana cooking has become its own category, thanks to the worldwide success of celebrity chefs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Its roots, however, can be found in two separate but related cultures: Cajun and Creole. To understand the differences between the cuisines, it’s helpful to understand the history behind the two groups of people most responsible for the individuality of Louisiana. The Cajun people are descendants of the Acadians, the first colonists to arrive in what is today Quebec and Maine. When the British expelled the Acadians in the middle of the 18th century, many traveled south to Louisiana. Cajun culture is associated with swamp and bayou country. “THE HOLY TRINITY IS THE BASE FOR MANY ICONIC DISHES, INCLUDING GUMBO AND JAMBALAYA. NO MATTER WHERE YOU GREW UP IN LOUISIANA, YOU CAN BET YOUR GRANDMA’S COOKBOOK INCLUDED DOZENS OF RECIPES THAT CALLED FOR ‘TRINITY.’” Louisiana’s Creole people, on the other hand, were centered around New Orleans originally. Creole was the term used to describe people of both French and Spanish origin born in the Louisiana colony. Over time, it grew to encompass anyone who possessed heritage from the unique cultures gathered in New Orleans, including large numbers of Haitian and West African residents. The influence of France, a commonality among Cajun and Creole peoples, can be found in the central shared element of both cuisines: the Holy Trinity. This blend of onion, bell pepper, and celery is the Louisiana equivalent of the mirepoix used in France
and the sofrito popular in Spain and Italy. The Holy Trinity is the base for many iconic dishes, including gumbo and jambalaya. No matter where you grew up in Louisiana, you can bet your grandma’s cookbook included dozens of recipes that called for “trinity.” Cajun and Creole cuisines favor different proteins and other specific ingredients. Cajun food is heavy on pork and crawfish, while Creole kitchens favor oysters, crab, shrimp, and many varieties of sausage. Another distinguishing attribute is the presence of tomatoes, which are used extremely regularly in Creole recipes and almost never in Cajun ones. If you have to bet whether a chef has stronger Creole or Cajun influences, your best hint is to look at the roux they use. Creole roux is standard stuff, the same mixture of butter and flour you’d find in France. The Cajun variant substitutes lard or oil for the butter. This base is what gives Cajun gumbo its thickness. These days, the two cuisines have blended to form the type of food we know and love. We’re still fiercely protective of it, but we don’t care if a restaurant leans more Creole or Cajun. What matters is that they know how to cook Louisiana food right. All across the state, you can expect slap-ya-mama-good food when you sit you down to a table. It’s a point of pride for us and something that defines us as Louisianans. Good luck finding anything nearly this delicious anywhere else.
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