Recently, Chef Maudie Schmitt of Café Rue Orleans in Fayetteville graced the Wednesday Over Water (WOW) stage to discussion the virtues of Southern cuisine, specifically that delicious and rich region in and around New Orleans. One of the highlights of the evening was the chance to sample Chef Maudie’s famous Gumbo: nutty roux-based and chock full of chicken, okra, and andouille sausage. Chef Melody Lane of Crystal Bridges accentuated the event with her take on creamy potato salad (delicious when added to gumbo by the way), as well as jasmine rice and French Bread flown in from New Orleans’ own Gambino’s Bakery.
Chef Maudie not only reminisced about growing up and cooking in New Orleans, but also allowed great insights into the nuances and differences between Cajun and Creole cuisine. Bon apetit!
Cajun “The word Cajun originates from the term “les Acadians,” used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada, (present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia). With the British conquest of Acadia in the early 1700s, the Acadians were forcibly removed from their homes in what become known as “Le Grand Dérangement,” or the Great Upheaval. Many Acadians eventually settled in the swampy region of Louisiana, today known as Acadiana.Along with its food, this rural area of Louisiana is famous for its Cajun French music and language.
Without access to modern-day luxuries like refrigerators, the Cajuns learned to make use of every part of a slaughtered animal. When a pig is butchered, the event is called a boucherie. Boudin, a type of Cajun sausage which consists of pork meat, rice, and seasoning stuffed into a casing, also commonly contains pig liver for a little extra flavor. Tasso and Andouille are two other Cajun pork products that use salts and smoke as preservatives. Cajun food is famous for being well seasoned, which is sometimes misunderstood as spicy. Seasoning is one of the most important parts of Cajun cooking, and that comes from much more than a heavy helping of cayenne pepper. Most dishes begin with a medley of vegetables. “The holy trinity of Cajun cuisine” utilizes onion, celery, and bell pepper to provide a flavor base for many dishes. Garlic is never far away from any stove, either. Paprika, thyme, filé (ground sassafras leaves), parsley, and green onions are also very common ingredients in Cajun kitchens.”
Creole “The term Creole describes the population of people who were born to settlers in French colonial Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans. In the 18th century, Creoles were the descendants of the French and Spanish upper-class that ruled the city. Over the years, the term grew to include native-born slaves of African descent, as well as free people of color. Typically, the term French Creole described someone of European ancestry born in the colony, and the term Louisiana Creole described someone of mixed racial ancestry.
Like the people, Creole food is a blend of the various cultures of New Orleans, including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese, to name a few. Creole cuisine is thought of as a little higher-brow or aristocratic when compared to Cajun. Traditionally, slaves in the kitchens of well-to-do members of society prepared the food, and with an abundance of time and resources, their dishes offered an array of spices from various regions, and creamy soups and sauces. A rémoulade sauce, for example, which consists of nearly a dozen ingredients, would not typically be found in Cajun kitchens. Creole cuisine has more variety, because of the easier access Creoles had to exotic ingredients and the wide mix of cultures that contributed to the cuisine. That’s why you find tomatoes in Creole jambalaya and not in Cajun jambalaya, or why you often find a Creole roux made with butter and flour, while a Cajun roux is made with oil and flour.
The only place to get true Creole and Cajun food is in Louisiana, or at least in the kitchen of someone from Louisiana. However, if traveling down South isn’t in the cards, now you know a few tips that can help you determine if a dish is close to being authentically Cajun or Creole. Luckily, in Louisiana, true Cajun and Creole food will never stray far away from its roots. With each new generation of Louisianans, there is a vested interest in its history and culture, and a proud new set of parents. There is no one better suited to ensure that Louisiana food adheres to its traditions and reputations. And over 4.4 million people are fit for the job.
Café Rue Orleans Gumbo 1 cup oil 1 cup flour 2 large onions, chopped 2 bell peppers, chopped 4 ribs celery, chopped 4 – 6 cloves garlic, minced 4 quarts chicken stock 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning, or salt and black pepper to taste 1 large chicken (young hen preferred), cut into pieces 2 pounds andouille or smoked sausage, cut into 1/2″ pieces 1 bunch scallions (green onions), tops only, chopped 2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley Season the chicken with salt, peppe,r and Creole seasonings.
In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil and cook the flour in the oil over medium to high heat (depending on your roux-making skill), stirring constantly, until the roux reaches a dark reddish-brown color, almost the color of coffee or milk chocolate for a Cajun-style roux. If you want to save time, or prefer a more New Orleans-style roux, cook it to a medium, peanut-butter color, over lower heat if you’re nervous about burning it. Add the vegetables and stir quickly. This cooks the vegetables and also stops the roux from cooking further. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes. Add the stock, seasonings, chicken, and sausage. Bring to a boil, then cook for about one hour, skimming fat off the top at the end. Add the chopped scallion tops and parsley, and heat for 5 minutes. Serve over rice in large shallow bowls. Accompany with a good beer and lots of hot, crispy French bread. YIELD: About 12 entrée sized servings, about a gallon.
Maudie’s Tasso Combine one part each of: salt white pepper black pepper paprika garlic powder one half part cayenne Slice Boston butt into 1-inch slabs. Coat with seasoning. Place in a smoker at 125 degrees for 3 hours. Then turn up the heat to 325 for 1 hour. Use pecan wood to smoke.