All About Cajun and Creole Cooking
The History and Differences Between Cajun and Creole Cuisine
Just as Cajun and Creole history and culture are separate and distinct from one another, Cajun and Creole cooking are distinct styles of cookery. Yet, having been born from access to a shared set of ingredients and some common European cooking practices, it comes as no surprise that there are a number commonalities between the subsistence-based, “live off the land” roots of Cajun cooking, and the multi-course, market-based, somewhat more “upscale” Creole notions of food.
What Is Cajun Cooking
The common belief that the Cajuns “came from Acadia” (in the Canadian Maritime Provinces) is true, and not. While the Cajuns of today certainly owe a goodly part of their ancestry to the French settlers of Acadia (many of whom relocated to Louisiana after the Great Disturbance of 1755), once the Acadian Diaspora settled in parts of SW Louisiana, they mixed and intermarried with freed men of color, other immigrants (German, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, English, etc.), and Native Americans, giving them a lineage not dissimilar to that of the Creoles. But for the Cajuns, who were by and large hard working settlers, forced to leave their homes, their arrival on the U.S. Gulf Coast was not filled with the promise of grand land ownership, servants, and the aristocracy.
Theirs was a world of starting over again, from scratch, and of learning to live off of (and with) the land, rather than bending it to their will. Accordingly, Cajun cuisine is the food of people forced to make due. It makes use of local game, local roots and herbs, and readily available fillers (such as the rice used to stretch boudin sausage) in the preparation of simple one-pot meals intended to feed many people.
What Is Creole Cooking
Knowing that Creole culture in the United States represents a mix of aristocratic peoples from Europe (the second sons of wealthy French and Spanish landowners who sought their fortune in the new world), and other immigrants, Native Americans, and freed men of color, that Creole cooking is seen as the upscale side of Gulf Coast cookery is a fait accompli. The aristocrats from Europe brought with them servants who would have scoured local markets looking for ingredients to fill the master’s larder. There would have been no sense of making do. The sons of wealthy landowners sought to (and often succeeded) in maintaining the lifestyle to which they’d become accustomed.
Naturally, concessions were been made to local ingredients and seasonal availability. As a result it’s likely that freed men of color, Native Americans, and other locals would have tipped the servants off to things like okra and sassafras as thickeners for stews, and Gulf Coast shrimp and oysters handily replaced the European crustaceans and mollusks in New World Spanish paella, which would later become Jambalaya. It’s also a fair bet that local ingredients combined with the German (and French) immigrants’ skill at charcuterie contributed to the forerunners of today’s boudin, andouille, and other sausage recipes.
Common Elements in Cajun and Creole Cooking
In that the Creole have a strong connection to their French and Spanish ancestry, and Cajuns have ties to the Acadians, who were the descendants of French settlers, both cultures share an ancestry of French/Continental (European) cuisine. Where the Creoles also have ancestral ties to Span and Africa, the Cajun family tree reaches back to Germany, Ireland, and Italy. So, for both, European foodways figure heavily in their table.
On the subject of jambalaya, the differences between Creoles and Cajuns are (God help me for saying this) not worth fighting over. It’s better to simply try a dish of each and decide for yourself. Harkening back to its market-based roots, Creole jambalaya tends to have both meat and vegetables, particularly tomatoes which helped to label it unofficially as “red jambalaya”. By contrast, Cajun jambalaya tends to be more of a “brownish” color thanks to the browned bits of meat scraped from the bottom of the pan, but retained and prized as a flavor enhancer.
It’s said that there are as many ways to prepare crawfish as there are Cajun and Creole families. Love of this ubiquitous freshwater shellfish is yet another commonality shared by Cajun and Creole communities. Found in gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, sandwiches (po-boys), the tender pink meat of the crawfish is the perfect vehicle for both the earthy goodness of Cajun cooking or the more delicate refinements of Creole cuisine.
Visitors to the Gulf Coast (particularly Louisiana) will find no shortage of restaurants claiming Cajun and Creole cooking as their specialty. While many of these assessments are accurate, it pays to do a bit of research and look for the genuine article. If you have the opportunity, ask a few questions about the menu. Is the jambalaya red or brown? If they claim to be Cajun, ask about game, crawfish, and boudin. If they claim Creole influences, ask about Caribbean items on the menu, tomato based sauces, and French/Spanish-inspired dishes.
In general, unless you hit on a complete dive, you’ll be pleased with Creole or Cajun food. Anybody who is halfway sincere about presenting these cuisines will likely be a lover of food, know a bit of the history about it, or at least tell a good story.
It’s impossible to enjoy Cajun or Creole food for long without getting caught up in their history, story, and culinary mastery. But, more than that, Cajun and Creole cooking reflect the people, where they came from, and the lives they've led.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research which led us to the following sources of information: