New Orleans: Enjoy Cajun food

When the French-speaking population of Acadia (now part of Atlantic Canada) was exiled by the British in the 1750s, many took refuge in the alligator-laden bayous of southern Louisiana.

They brought with them their language and laid the foundation for a unique cuisine. Today, the Canadian connection can still be found in cities like Lafayette and St. Martinville, where the Acadians first settled. French is still the first language spoken by many who live there, and surnames like Landry, Comeaux and Boudreaux abound. As locals see it, a trip to the bayou for Canadians is like visiting distant cousins.

Along with their language, the Acadians brought wilderness survival skills. As they had in Nova Scotia, they immediately connected with the Native American community, and it was from them that they learned of local wild food.

While upper-crust Creole chefs (descendants of European settlers, especially French) would go to city markets to buy special ingredients, Cajun cooks would open their back doors and grab whatever was swimming or flying by-and add it to the night’s gumbo. Cajuns are still hunters today.

One pot cooking
The early ttlers brought their precious cast iron kettles, and the tradition of one-pot cooking has sustained. In Louisiana, the boom of the oil industry in the 20th century injected a curious spin on this tradition.

Cajun oil riggers put their welding skills to good use by fashioning huge kettles to hold foods like alligator with a sauce piquante, crawfish jambalaya and steaming chicken gumbo to ladle over steamed rice.

One oil worker-and closet chef -built a trailer to haul his huge oven to local festivals. He cooks a traditional cochon du lait (roast pig)-in fact, he roasts three 250-pound pigs over a mesquite fire to utter perfection.

Bronze, not black
Cajun spicing is probably one of its most misunderstood aspects. Cajun foods are often characterized as fiery hot and blackened, but this seasoning and cooking style was actually an invention of several New Orleans restaurateurs.

But true Cajun foods, according to Louisiana cooking school chef and cookbook author Patrick Mould, are “bronzed,” not blackened, and the seasoning never overpowers a dish, be it an étouffé or a fricassee.

The spices used in these dishes were originally brought over by Spanish and Italian settlers and African slaves.

“I learned to season from the black cooks in the kitchen,” explains Mould. “Eulah May, Sam and Marie-they were my teachers. They just understood.”

Pat Mould’s Bronzed Catfish Fillets

  • 2 tbsp (25ml) melted butter
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) lemon juice
  • ½ tsp (2ml) each dried basil, dried oregano and garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp (1ml) each salt, thyme, black pepper, onion powder and paprika
  • Pinch each cayenne and white pepper  Pinch
  • 2 catfish fillets (about 8 oz/250 g each)

In a shallow bowl, combine butter, lemon juice and all the seasonings. Add the fish fillets and flip to coat evenly.

In lightly oiled non-stick skillet, cook fillets over medium heat for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Flip and repeat until both sides are bronzed and fish is beginning to flake.
Makes two servings.

Chez Mix
This recipe was shared by Maugie Pastor, owner of T’Freres, a great B & B on the outskirts of the New Orleans. This is the original Louisiana seasoning mix that has been modified over the years by various manufacturers with the addition of thyme, dill, lemon zest, garlic and onion powder.

You can do that, too, but begin with red, white and black by combining:

  • 3/4 cup (175 ml) salt
  • 1/4 cup (50 ml) cayenne
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) black pepper
  • Store in a glass container.