The Defamation of Authentic Cajun Cooking

Plus 4 authentic recipes

 


The culinary wonders of "real" Cajun cuisine have been lost to many unsuspecting consumers, bedazzled by the promise of a taste of Louisiana's proud aged art of cooking,  only to be served a cheap imitation. Restaurants boasting a menu of cajun cooking have spread across the country enticing patrons to sample Louisiana's finest. The 'rub' (no pun intended) is that many of these preparations have evolved from a lack of experience and knowledge, with impostors serving overspiced, overpeppered, tongue-searing or burned food.

Hot does not make it Cajun; heavy pepper does not make it Cajun; overspicing and burning food does not make it Cajun. Many would-be lovers of this fine cuisine are missing out on a delicious culinary experience. Cajun food may not be subtle, but its ingredients work together releasing layers of tastes, extremely pleasing to the palate, causing your brain to ask for more...NOW! An explosion of flavor.
Related Imagery
Simmering shrimp stock
Cooking etouffe, gumbo, piquante!
Crawfish etouffe
Download Recipes
Pat Reagan, a land man (they lease land for oil drillers) from Lafayette, La., says, "It has gotten so bad that we see some places around here that have fallen into the trap of 'counterfeit' Cajun food, but they don't last long."

I spoke with Andrew Edelberg, a local attorney who represents restaurateurs and has a self-proclaimed love of food. He became very fond of several local establishments that served "Cajun" food. When asked if he thought the taste was authentic he proclaimed, "No, it rarely is when you take it out of its natural area; look at cheesesteaks, they can't reproduce the bread in other parts of the country, not without Philadelphia water." He said that the food he has had is tasty, but he has been told by friends who lived in New Orleans that it is not the same. He thinks that people have always wanted food that tastes good, and most of them liked the allure of the origin of the recipe but weren't very concerned with authenticity... that is, until recent years. He contends that with the popularity of food and cooking shows (and blogs) on television and the internet,"many people have been bitten by the food bug and have developed a deep appreciation, no, an affection, for food and its proper preparation, it's a respect thing."

My own love for Cajun food started when I moved to New Orleans to attend law school. Everything I tasted was so full of flavor that I immediately fell in love with Cajun and Creole foods. During my third year of law school I was fortunate to land a job waiting tables at the historic Commander's Palace, the much touted award-winning restaurant located in New Orleans' Garden District and owned by the Brennan family. I brought a lot of good food home to Nancy at that time (it pays to be polite to the chefs).  The executive chef was the legendary Chef Paul Prudhomme, who has inspired many of today's celebrity chefs, not the least of whom is Emeril Lagasse, his successor at Commander's Palace. The restaurant and its chefs are an excellent subject for a future article; however, in this writer's life they had a profound effect on my appreciation for what an "artist" could do with food. Chef Prudhomme invented the "blackened" process around this time. It is probably one of the most poorly copied processes in Cajun cooking. I've enjoyed delicious blackened dishes such as redfish, from Chef Prudomme and other great southern Louisiana chefs, however, I've never had an even close to authentic blackened dish elsewhere. For some reason it always comes out on the plate burned or overseasoned.

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  • Snooth User: chefsoul1
    888424 1

    I love these two...perhaps the best guests you could have at any table (and in your kitchen too)

    Jul 18, 2011 at 3:35 PM


  • I was really enjoying this article until I got to the recipes. I'm sorry, but any recipe for etoufee that doesn't start with a roux falls into the exact issue you're writing about.
    For over 20 years, my "bible" for all recipes cajun has been "The New Orleans Cookbook" by Rima and Richard Collin. My well-worn and roux spattered copy has produced many outstanding and authentic dishes.

    Jul 18, 2011 at 7:23 PM


  • Snooth User: juki629
    77367 3

    My crawfish etoufee recipe does not start with a roux. It's full of butter, thickening, seasonings and crawfish. There are never any leftovers when I cook it. My "Talk about Good" was my first cookbook. It's splattered, very worn and still my favorite!! My pre-marriage years included working for the Bell System. I often spoke to a young woman of Cajun descent about my concerns as a new wife. I never saw her face, but I'll never forget her advise about making a roux. She advised me to start with equal parts of flour and cooking oil, "Put your fire on high and stir like hell." Very sound advise for a newly wed from North Carolina wanting to please her Cajun husband.

    Jul 18, 2011 at 7:39 PM


  • Snooth User: ryanasak
    320920 1

    It would be great if we could print the articles and recipes by clicking on a "PRINT" window. I find myself cutting and pasting it as best I can onto a word document but as you must know, that's a bit of a pain given Microsoft never worked out the bugs.

    Jul 18, 2011 at 8:17 PM


  • The Cajun people are cool, but Emeril is an blithering idiot.

    Jul 18, 2011 at 8:18 PM


  • Snooth User: Dloganesq
    888672 1

    I love this blog!! And I love cooking and eating with Chip and Nancy. I remember watching Chef Paul Prudhomme on WGBH in Boston when I was a kid. He came on after Julia Child on Saturdays (yes, I'm a PBS geek) and before the Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook. But it was a fellow named Justin Wilson who was the one who introduced real down-home Cajun cooking and was a hoot in the process. The way he pronounced "onion" was so entertaining and when he was adding wine to a dish, it was always "A little wine, a little more wine and some for the cook- whoooweee" that always got a smile! Thanks for the recipes!

    Jul 18, 2011 at 10:09 PM


  • Snooth User: cajungirl
    888696 57

    Recipes throughout Louisiana for many of the traditional dishes can vary greatly from area to area. Lafayette, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, New Iberia, Houma - gumbo, etouffee, red beans and rice - it may all be done a little differently, but it is usually delicious!! It doesn't make them any less authentic, they are just different. 'Talk About Good' is one of the 'bibles' to many cooks in South Louisiana. It has a number of crawfish etouffee recipes that do NOT start with a roux and one that does. My family has always made it without a roux. It's great either way.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 12:03 AM


  • Snooth User: alcamp99
    627863 14

    Barbecue shrimp. No one does it better than K-Paul's. Sweet potato pecan pie, again at K-Paul's.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 12:32 AM


  • Snooth User: Shaqgo123
    513284 15

    I spent quite a bit of time in NO and Baton Rouge on business travel before retiring. I became so dedicated to cooking Cajun I have often ordered crawfish, oysters, cafish, seasoning etc from Tony's Seafood and tasso and andouille (best ever) from Bellues, both in Baton Rouge. It's worth the cost of airfreighting to my NJ home. For recipes all you need is a few Prudhomme cookbooks, especially "Louisiana Kitchen".His seafood gumbo with andouille is a work of art. Prudhomme is the master, a LA native compared to faker Emeril, a Fall River MA native who learned all he knows from PP. Emeril even lists recipes on the Food Network that are PP's, verbatim from Louisiana Kitchen.
    Some of yhe best meals of my life were at KPauls. I nearly cried when he closed his restaurant in lower manhattan after only 1 year due to his sister's death. It was probably the only place in the Northeast where you could get the real thing.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 3:31 AM


  • Snooth User: kajinkat
    642443 1

    Growing up in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana I'm about as "Cajun" as a person can get. Cajun Country is not New Orleans. In fact, New Orleans people didn't claim us at all until Paul Prudhomme came on the scene. Their cooking was called "creole" and ours "cajun". There is a difference. I learned to cook from my mother and grandmother. We cooked etouffee without a roux because all etouffee means to us is "smothered". If we used a roux we called it a stew. Both were delicious but with a different base. If a person wants to learn to cook the way we do the best thing would be to spend a week or two in the home of a really good Cajun cook. No cookbook required.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 7:48 AM


  • Snooth User: alcamp99
    627863 14

    You're right. Cajun cooks I know don't use a cookbook. The origins of gumbo and jambalaya come from using what you had on hand. I think that's why there is so much variance in the recipes. Don't hate on Emeril. He's a well respected chef. He's just not Cajun. He has been helpful in the revitalization of New Orleans. His restaurants rarely disappoint, but don't go there expecting authentic Cajun fare.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 8:07 AM


  • Snooth User: VaderSS
    587245 16

    While Cajun/Creole has been turned into a marketing term these days, and much of the food labeled as such is not authentic, or even good, we must keep in mind that Louisiana cuisine is not a single entity, and that it will change from region to region in Louisiana. New Orleans food is not the same as Baton Rouge food which is not the same as food from Lake Charles which is not the same as food from Shreveport. Even within a region, there will be personal variation.

    Cajun/Creole is a state of mind and a way of being as much as it is a type of food.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 8:44 AM


  • Snooth User: alcamp99
    627863 14

    The stuffed pork chops from Veron's in Lafayette are to die for. I believe that they ship. It is a small family run specialty grocery store with a number of Cajun specialties. Their proprietary seasoning (sold in bulk by the ounce) is awesome. I've never been disappointed.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 9:06 AM


  • I'm droolin' just reading about all this good cookin'.
    Let's eat !

    Jul 19, 2011 at 9:28 AM


  • wish to taste your food and wine, looks very inviting,
    Maria and Charlie

    Jul 19, 2011 at 9:50 AM


  • This is GARBAGE! First, you tell me all about this wonderful little dinner, that might I add, you did not invite me to. Then, you have the audacity to send me this blog link featuring pictures of all the food that I didn't get when you know full well the paucity of traditional Cajun cooking that I face in these trying times. TOTAL MUFF GABBAGE!!

    I am their son by the way, their starving, malnourished, definitely underweight, bitter-that-he-doesnt-have-gumbo son.

    For shame Nance, FOR SHAME!

    Jul 19, 2011 at 10:32 AM


  • For those who couldn't read the Sarcasm obviously oozing out of my previous post (mom and dad) I would like to add this comment to let everyone know that IT WAS A JOKE.

    What isn't a joke is that you have a bad sense of humor, at least you are a good cook.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 11:08 AM


  • Snooth User: drnga
    259476 1

    KJAINKAT has got it right. I grew up in south Louisiana and never saw anything blackened or overloaded with spices and hot peppers. Canjun food is about taste and beautiful odors and flavors. Creole and Cajun might be shirt tail cousins but that is about as close as it gets. As a youngster I traveled a lot with my dad who was a 'mud' engineer in the oil patch. Once while we were in Breaux Bridge, more than 50 years ago, the owner of a restaurant and bar we always ate in came to the table and told my dad they had something special that wasn't on the menu, so we got it...coon and possum baked together with sweet potatoes. Now that's authentic Cajun cooking. Want some real gumbo? Then get yourself out to a duck camp around Rayne or Jeanerette or Lafayette and eat some duck gumbo for dinner made from ducks that were flyig when the sun came up. It don't get no better than that.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 11:50 AM


  • Snooth User: mrsgrosko
    850809 13

    very interesting and informative. You can tell that those of us from LA have a sore spot regarding this topic!

    Jul 31, 2011 at 8:45 AM


  • Great article. Great recipes. There is no substitute for authentic cajun food. It's about time that someone wrote what many of us have been thinking.

    Aug 02, 2011 at 5:31 PM


  • Snooth User: Gumboy
    906307 0

    Great article, Nancy and Chip. Gotta agree with those noting New Orleans cooking isn't Cajun cooking, although Cajun cooking has infiltrated New Orleans due to some chef notariety over the last 20 years. In the Lafayette area, undisputed as the heart of Cajun cooking, blackening something meant one needed to learn how to cook. Go west of Lafayette to Cameron Parish and one will find gumbo made with a roux using file' (ground sassafras), onions and chicken grease- no flour. Don't much care for it myself, but those preparing it are as Cajun as the swamp is wet. Point is, Cajun cooking originated less as a style than a method of using whatever one had on hand and making it taste wonderful. BTW, I do use a bit of roux in my etouffe...

    Aug 02, 2011 at 6:30 PM


  • Boy, that looks all kindsa good. You yankees pretty much nailed it!!! I agree that there are many different ways to get it done and as such would 86 the powdered spices. It’s great to have different types, tastes, etc… for the same dish. How many marinara sauces have you tried? My humble suggestion is to have a neighborhood crawfish boil and use only the crawfish and veggies (onions, garlic cloves, corn, mushroom caps, etc - no potatoes) to make an etouffee - oohhh Son!!! If you really want to immerse yourself, move to Broussard, Louisiana (south central near Lafayette) and work for Billy at Billeaud's Meat Market (even if you have to clean the toilette). Bring your note pad and glean some of his family's recipes for arguably the best representation of Cajun food in Cajun food land. If you’re lucky, maybe Pat Reagan will stop by - he can give some great advice and you won’t have to ask. - Swampy

    Aug 02, 2011 at 10:18 PM


  • Snooth User: lamiss
    544752 0

    These recipes DO look good; however, in my opinion, they are NOT Cajun but New Orleans Creole Style. I'm about as Cajun as a Cajun can be. Born & raised in South Louisiana and learned to cook from my Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, and Grandmothers -- by watching them. No recipes -- however, I DO have a large collection of CAJUN & CREOLE Cookbooks and read them often. I often combine parts of several recipes to get the flavors I feel are authentic and taste like what I grew up eating. It is an art - not a science. I'm always telling folks -- CAJUN food is not HOT -- it's SPICY and there's an art to layering the flavors of the ingredients and spices. We do have several so called "Cajun" & "Creole" Restaurants here in San Antonio -- only one, in my opinion, is authentic Creole - not Cajun - the owner/chef is from New Orleans and he prepares excellent Creole Food. If you want Cajun in San Antonio -- you have to come to my house for dinner -- or maybe one of the other many Cajuns here in San Antonio will invite you to their home.

    Oct 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM


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