Cajun and Creole recipes just in time for Mardi Gras

February 26, 2014 

JULIAN BRUNT/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDTry sushi rice to make your jambalaya creamy and delicious.

There are a small handful of Cajun and Creole recipes that form the backbone of the these two deeply related culinary adventures. Both evolved in a geographically related area, the bayou country of south Louisiana and New Orleans at its center, but they came to prominence almost 100 years apart.

Just a little over a score of years ago Cajun food was found in Acadiana, and almost nowhere else. The Creole traditions were popular much earlier and fancy restaurants all over the world advertised dishes as á la Creole as early as the 1880s.

The two styles should not be thought of as the same, not by a long shot. Cajun cooking stresses fresh, local ingredients, almost always includes the trinity of onions, bell pepper and celery and, in later times, lots of cayenne pepper. Rice is almost always part of the recipe or is included as a side. This style of cooking is hearty, not overly complicated and is often a one pot meal.

Chef Paul Prudhomme popularized Cajun everything in the 1980s. Creole cookery is thought of as more refined, with deep European roots, particularly French and Spanish.

As different as Cajun and Creole can be, they do share some of the same recipes. Gumbo is perhaps the best example. The origins of this famous recipe are almost certainly French bouillabaisse. Cajun and Creole recipes differ somewhat, but then there are so many recipes that it would be hard to put them all just in two categories.

One thing is pretty certain, Cajun gumbo would never have tomatoes, but Creole gumbo often does, and those of a Cajun persuasion might prefer a darker roux than their Creole neighbors.

There are other recipes that deserve our attention, perhaps gumbo gets a bit too much of the lime light. Jambalaya is a wonderful dish, inexpensive, hearty and absolutely delicious. It is a distant cousin of the Spanish paella. Shrimp Creole has Spanish and French heritage and is a very simple dish that can be quite elegant. Étouffée is a relative late comer, but is just as popular, and it is found in both Cajun and Creole repertoires.

There is no denying the close relationship between these two wonderful styles of cooking, but some acknowledgement should be given to the many other influences. Portuguese, African, Italian, Native American and Caribbean cooks all had their spoons in this pot, but perhaps

the most important note to take is that these styles evolved from many influences and so it is our job to do the same thing. Take a basic recipe, then make it your own, now pass it on.

JAMBALAYA

This recipe was vastly improved when Jesse Loya of Bay St. Louis, Miss., suggested using sushi rice, rather than jasmine or another long grain rice. The result is so creamy and delicious.

3-4 bone in chicken thighs

1 cup sliced smoked sausage

1 cup sliced Polish sausage

1 large chopped red onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 large chopped green bell pepper

3-6 chopped cloves of garlic

1 cup sushi rice

Red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt as desired

Canola or olive oil

Heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of oil in a large pot, add the chicken thighs and sear on both sides, remove and set aside. Add the sausage and cook until crispy, fragrant and delicious, remove and set aside. Add the onions, celery and bell pepper, sauté for 15 minutes, add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the chicken back to the pot and cover with water, simmer until the chicken is done, remove and debone the chicken, discard the bones. This step not only cooks the chicken but makes the stock that is the base of the recipe. Add the sausage and chicken and simmer for 10 minutes, add the rice and 2 cups of water or stock and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the rice is done. It may be necessary to add more liquid so it does not get too thick. As is so often the case, jambalaya is better the next day.

SHRIMP CREOLE

1/2 stick butter

1 cup chopped onions

3/4 cup chopped bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped celery

2-3 cloves chopped garlic

1 bay leaf

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 cup dry white wine

1 pound large peeled shrimp

1 cup long grain rice (Jasmine is optimal)

Salt and pepper

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

Green onions

2-3 tablespoons Valentino hot sauce is optional

Cook the rice in a rice cooker with two cups of water or stock. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, season with black pepper, salt and Tony's. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper, sauté for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and wine, taste and re-season as necessary. Simmer until thick and delicious, about 20 minutes. In the mean time in a separate sauté pan sear the shrimp in very hot oil, just 30 seconds or so on a side, but the oil has to be smoking hot, so be very careful. Cook the shrimp in small batches, remove and set aside. Add the shrimp juices in the sauté pan to the main dish, simmer a few minutes more, then add the shrimp. Cook just a few minutes, then serve over bowls of steaming hot rice and garnish with the green onions.

ÉTOUFFÉE SO SIMPLE A CHILD CAN MAKE IT

You can also buy the crawfish already cooked at many fish mongers. This would be a good recipe to start your children on, if they have an interest in cooking.

2 cups cooked rice

1 cup peeled crawfish

1/2 stick butter

1 chopped onion

1 chopped bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped celery

2 chopped cloves of garlic

2/3 cup chopped tomatoes

1 pinch black pepper

1 small pinch cayenne pepper

Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the vegetables and season with the pepper and cayenne and cook over a medium low heat for 15 minutes, add the tomatoes, taste and season again if you like, cook for 10 more minutes. Add the crawfish, cook for just 5 minutes more, then serve over hot rice.

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