Hearty, flavorful, spicy — these are a few of the many adjectives that apply to Cajun cooking. Simple yet tasty, Cajun cooking strongly reflects the values of the people who developed it — the Acadians. The strong French heritage of Cajuns is reflected in their cooking, although a few have Irish and Spanish ancestry and a minority of German and Italian descent.
Cajun cooking is closely linked to the country life, most significant of which are the people’s ties to the land and sea. To help you understand this connection further, we’ll talk about the way Cajun catering (which is what we do at BlackWater Hospitality) pairs traditional values and flavors.
Cajun tradition and cooking
Cajun cuisine is known for its generous use of spices. It’s a style of cooking which originated in the Southern parts of the US after Acadian immigrants were forced to flee Canada in the 18th century and migrate to what was then called the Spanish colony of Luisiana.
Unknown to many, Cajun cuisine actually has roots in North Africa! The dried seasonings characteristic of traditional Cajun cooking originate in the use of mortar and pestles to ground dry peppers, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables into pastes. Cajun food gets its flavor and richness from a distinct process of laboriously cooking large amounts of meat over an open flame. You may also know this as BBQ. Throughout the process, fat renders out from the meat in large quantities and was kept to deep fry food in times when a quick meal was needed. These were often served over rice.
Possibly the most unknown fact about Cajun food is that the Central Bantu people of West Africa played a large role in its origins. Thousands of people from Central Bantu came to the ports of New Orleans where their unique dialects and recipes gave us the term “Gumbo,” and a multitude of other spices used daily across the southeast!
Largely inspired by its rural French roots, Cajun cuisine is the product of a hardworking people who lived off the land and the bounty of the sea. The Acadians were a simple rural folk who lived off what was readily available to them. They reproduced the traditional peasant-style recipes of the French countryside which are usually comprised of meat and vegetables cooked in a single pot with a thick sauce.
One adaptation they made was to include what they could harvest from the land and catch from the sea. They continued this tradition when they were forcibly removed from Acadia and made their way to present-day Louisiana.
Upon settling in the South, the French-Canadians adapted their cuisine to the ingredients that were abundant in Louisiana. Instead of the salmon, lobster and cod found in the North Atlantic where they used to live, their cooking evolved to include crawfish, shrimp, crab, oysters, catfish, redfish and alligator found in the Gulf of Mexico and nearby creeks and wetlands.
They replaced potatoes with rice, as the latter grows abundantly in the Louisiana clime. Instead of carrots (as in mirepoix), bell peppers form part of the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking: one part onions, one part celery, and one part green bell pepper. The generous use of black pepper and cayenne is also a distinct characteristic of Cajun cooking used to distinguish it from its closest kin, that is, Creole cuisine.
Cajun cooking was further enriched by Spanish, Native American and African-American influences, but remains deeply rooted in seafood. Spices enrich the flavor of every dish, the use of roux (flour and fat cooked together to thicken sauces) is pretty standard and the Holy Trinity is used in most Cajun dishes.
The Cajun values concerning their faith (predominantly Catholic), love for family, familiarity and friendship are reflected in their cuisine. From their religious upbringing, we get the carnival king cake symbolizing epiphany.
Their love for family is reflected in their fondness for intergenerational get-togethers, where the centerpiece is the enjoyment and fellowship over heaping plates and bowls of Cajun cooking prepared by men. Traditional fare for gatherings include jambalaya, gumbo and crawfish boils. If you’re in town for a lengthy visit or just passing through, don’t be surprised to be invited to these get-togethers where you’ll be treated like family or an old friend.
Because of Cajun cooking, we’ve become familiar with gumbo (file powder, okra, chicken, sausage, shrimp), boudin (pork sausage), rice-heavy jambalaya and rice and gravy. Then, of course, there’s the popular crawfish boil, cochon de lait, po’ boy sandwich, pein perdu (similar to French toast) and crawfish/shrimp étouffée (seafood stew served over rice). Hot sauce (think Tabasco) is also part of the legacy of Cajun cuisine.
Sample the best of Cajun cuisine with BlackWater
At BlackWater, we pride ourselves in providing healthy, delicious, organic farm-to-table food through our Cajun catering services to all our clients. This means that simply by ordering from us, you’re helping support the hospitality and small farming industry that have been hit hard by the current pandemic.
Whether you have a large event or a special private celebration, or simply want your staff well-fed, we’re here to provide the best of Cajun catering in Middle Tennessee. We can even customize a special menu to meet your requirements.