Creole Versus Cajun

Below you will find an article that I found in an issue of Saveur magazine. It was written by chef Frank Brigsten. The article answers the question “What is the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine?”. Ample Bites found the article to be interesting and informative. I hope you do, too.

Creole Versus Cajun by Frank Brigsten

As a New Orleans chef, I am often asked to explain the distinction between Creole and Cajun, Louisiana’s famous cuisines. It’s the difference, I always say, between city and country tables. Creole, from the Spanish “criollo”, meaning “native to a place”, evolved across nearly 300 years in New Orleans – a city founded in 1718 by the French, ruled soon after by the Spanish, and home over the centuries to arrivals from all over Europe, West Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Caribbean. Creole food is classically French in spirit, exemplified by rich dishes such as shrimp remoulade and trout meuniere. But it borrows from elements from the cooking of all of the city’s populations. Spaniards brought the bell peppers that, along with onions and celery, compose the “holy trinity”, Creole’s version of a mirepoix, the flavor base of so many dishes. Sicilians introduced canned tomatoes, commonly used in Creole sauces. File (ground sassafras leaves), and earthy gumbo thickener, comes from the Native Americans; okra is African, while spicy cayenne is Caribbean. Cajun food, on the other hand, has its origins in the countryside of southwest Louisiana, called Acadiana, where the Catholic French colonists of Acadie (Nova Scotia) started settling in the 1750s when they were expelled from Canada by the British. There, they continued their traditional ways, trapping, fishing and pig farming. Though also French-based with multicultural influences, Cajun cuisine is founded on hearty one-pot cooking and rustic ingredients – salt pork, corn, and wild game and seafood. Soups and stews are built on a long-cooked roux made with lard or oil – darker and more intense than the butter-based Creole version. Cajun cooking wasn’t familiar to city folks until Paul Prudhomme and other Acadian-born chefs popularized it in the 1970s, but the ubiquity of crawfish, pork products, and deeply colored gumbos show how thoroughly New Orleanians have embraced this rural cuisine.

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Crawfish Etoufee Ravioli

Crawfish Etoufee Ravioli is a twist on a traditional etoufee recipe that was shared with me by a friend and my Cajun food guru, Tebo Wells. The key ingredient in this dish is the crawfish which I procured from Cajungrocer.com.

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Crawfish Etoufee Ravioli
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

Makes 4 Servings

For Ravioli Stuffing and Etoufee
1 pound Louisiana Crawfish Tails (w/ fat)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ large sweet onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
½ large green bell pepper, finely chopped
½ large jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 green onions, green and white parts chopped
10 ounces of shrimp stock can
2 tsp corn starch (dissolved in cold water)

For Ravioli Dough
1 cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup all purpose flour
Kosher salt
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp cold water

To prepare ravioli dough: Combine ingredients in mixer using flat paddle on low speed for 2 minutes. Replace paddle with dough hook and knead the dough on moderate speed for 2-3 minutes until dough is tight. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To prepare the stuffing: Melt one tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat and add one tablespoon of oil. Add about 1/3 each of the chopped onion, garlic, green bell pepper, and jalapeno pepper. Soften the vegetables and season them with salt and pepper. Chop about half of the crawfish tails and add them to the vegetables. Saute the crawfish for about 5 minutes until warm. Season again with salt and pepper.

To make the etoufee: Season the remaining crawfish with salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Set aside. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in heavy cast iron pot. Add flour and make a cream-colored roux. Add the remaining onion, celery, peppers, and garlic; soften the vegetables. Add the remaining crawfish and sauté for about 7-8 minutes, until warm. Add the white wine and deglaze the pot. Add the shrimp stock and let simmer about 10-12 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of corn starch to about a tablespoon of cold water. Slowly add the corn starch to the etoufee, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, cover and let the etoufee sit at least one hour.

Roll out pasta dough into 4 very thin sheets about 5-inch wide by 14-inch long. Discard or freeze excess dough for future use. Make 16 to 20 ravioli of about 1 ½-inch square by placing a tablespoonful of the stuffing in each. Seal each ravioli and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking them.

While heating water for the ravioli, reheat the etoufee over medium-low heat. When the pasta water is boiling add the ravioli and boil them for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the pasta.

Place the 4 or 5 ravioli on each dish, top with a generous spoonful of etoufee, garnish with green onion. Serve immediately.

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Authentic Jambalaya

Ample Bites is fortunate to have a family friend is who is an amazing, authentic Cajun and Creole cook. I will be sharing many of his recipes intermittently over the coming weeks. Even when I haven’t yet prepared the dish, but will very soon, I have been fortunate enough to taste my friend’s preparation first hand.

An Ample Bites favorite is Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya. Follow this recipe closely and you will enjoy a truly authentic dish. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Tebo’s Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

Makes 6 healthy servings

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ lbs chicken thighs
½ lb Andouille or smoked pork sausage
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp K-Paul’s Poultry Magic Seasoning
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, sliced
½ cup tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ cups rice
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

In a 4 to 5 quart dutch oven, melt the butter over medium until frothy. Pat the chicken thighs dry and season with 1 tablespoon of the Poultry Magic seasoning.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the sausage to the pan and sauté for about 4 minutes. Add the chicken and sauté until browned on both sides, about 4 more minutes. Add bay leaves, remaining Poultry Magic, garlic, onion, bell pepper, celery, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes until vegetables have softened and becoming translucent.

Stir in the chicken stock and the rice and bring to a FULL boil. Reduce heat to very low and simmer, covered, until rice is soft, about 30 minutes. Stir well. After 30 minutes, remove the bay leaves and let the pan sit uncovered for about five minutes before serving.

Serve with crusty French bread.

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A Fish Sandwich I have to make very, very soon

Crispy fish BLT sandwiches with sriracha mayo
(Recipe courtesy of Chicago Tribune, 2012)

Servings: 4

Ingredients:
4 skinless thick fish fillets, such as wild-caught Alaskan cod, each about 6 oz
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning blend, or see recipe below
4 thin slices applewood smoked bacon, cut in half
4 slices brick or Monterey jack cheese
4 sandwich buns (such as brioche)
2 tablespoons sriracha mayonnaise, see recipe below
8 thick slices ripe tomato, such as Campari tomatoes
4 thin slices large dill pickle, optional
8 small romaine leaves

Rinse fish fillets; pat dry with paper towels. Place on a baking sheet. Generously sprinkle Cajun seasoning on both sides. Let stand at room temperature, up to 30 minutes, or refrigerate for several hours.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in large, well-seasoned, cast-iron skillet (or nonstick skillet) over medium heat, turning, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate; reserve the pan drippings.

Heat the skillet with the drippings over medium-high heat. Add fillets in a single, uncrowded layer (in batches if necessary). Cook without turning until darkly golden, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip; brown the second side, about 2 minutes. Top with a slice of cheese; remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, toast the buns in a toaster oven or on a grill pan until golden. Spread sriracha mayonnaise over the insides of the buns.

Build each sandwich with 1 fillet, 2 tomato slices, 1 pickle slice if using, 2 half-pieces bacon and lettuce leaves.

Cajun spice mixture:
Mix 1 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground black pepper, paprika and oregano with 1/4 teaspoon each cayenne and dried thyme.

Sriracha mayonnaise:
Mix 1/4 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons sriracha hot sauce and 1 or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro. Refrigerate covered up to several days.