Creole, Cajun food puts New Orleans on the map

Creole, Cajun food puts New Orleans on the map
February 17, 2010
By: Anne Braly
Chattanooga Times

Even if you're not among the thousands filling New Orleans restaurants during Mardi Gras this week, you can enjoy a taste of the Big Easy at home.

Former New Orleans resident Michael Adams, owner of Blue Orleans Seafood Restaurant, corner of Main and Market, said the key to Cajun and Creole flavors is what's known in cooking circles as the trinity: a mixture of onions, celery and bell pepper added as a seasoning base.

"Garlic is the stepchild," Mr. Adams said. "It goes without saying that it goes in everything. The more, the better."

The cuisine of the Crescent City represents many countries whose descendants settled in southern Louisiana. Although the terms Creole and Cajun are used interchangeably to describe the food, Mr. Adams points out there is a difference, mostly in the spices used.

Back when Acadians, French colonists commonly known as Cajuns, lived in the low-lying areas of New Orleans, they dined on a lot of wild game, Mr. Adams explained. "So they needed a lot of spice to tone down the gamey flavors."

Examples of common Cajun dishes include dirty rice, venison sausage and braised rabbit.

Creoles lived on higher ground, with their culinary influences coming from the French, Spanish and black African slaves who came to the area through the Caribbean. Creoles preferred richer, more robust flavors, Mr. Adams said. Thus came such wonders as shrimp Creole, crawfish etouffee, Creole red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo.

"A lot of time, when people are thinking about Cajun food, they're really thinking Creole," Mr. Adams said.

Staff photo by Danielle Moore/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Chef Mike Adams, owner of Blue Orleans Seafood Restaurant located in downtown Chattanooga, cooks homemade jambalaya made with bell peppers, celery, onions, spicy sausage, chicken, rice and various cajun spices. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans where they lived prior to moving to Chattanooga, Mr. Adams opened the restaurant on Market Street with his wife Cherita in October 2007.

Through the years, though, the two cuisines have merged, producing the flavorful foods that draw visitors to the Mississippi Delta.

When cooking, remember to taste as you go, because certain ingredients, such as salt and spices, "you just can't take back," Mr. Adams said.

Cajun Jambalaya

1 whole chicken

Andouille sausage

Onion, chopped

Celery, chopped

Bell peppers, chopped

Garlic, minced

Rice, cooked and rinsed

Salt, parsley, sweet basil, red pepper, granulated garlic and more minced garlic, combined for seasoning


White wine

Kitchen Bouquet (a bottled condiment sauce)

Place chicken in a pot with water, some onion, celery and whatever other seasonings you want to make a good stock. Bring chicken to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook till chicken is tender and can be pulled off the bone easily. When chicken is cooked, remove from broth, saving broth, to cool. When cool, remove from bones, chop and set aside.

Cut sausage into slices, then sauté till brown; set aside.

Sauté onion, celery, peppers and garlic in a little oil till vegetables are tender. Set aside.

In large pot, combine chicken, sausage, vegetables, cooked rice and herb seasoning mixture, to taste. Add a little ketchup. "It adds a touch of sweetness that brings out the complexity of the flavors," Michael Adams said. Add a splash of white wine and a little Kitchen Bouquet for color. Bring to a boil, then cover, remove from heat and let sit for 20-25 minutes before serving.

Red Beans and Rice

1 pound red kidney beans, dry

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

5 ribs celery, chopped

5 or 6 cloves garlic, minced

1 large smoked ham hock or 3/4 pound smoked ham, diced, for seasoning

1 to 1 1/2 pounds mild or hot smoked sausage or andouille, sliced on the bias

1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed

1 or 2 bay leaves

Tabasco sauce, to taste

3-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce, or to taste

Creole seasoning blend, to taste; or red pepper and black pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

Soak the beans overnight, if possible. The next day, drain and put fresh water in the pot. Bring the beans to a rolling boil. Make sure the beans are always covered by water, or they will discolor and get hard. Boil the beans for 45-60 minutes, until the beans are very tender but not falling apart. Drain.

While the beans are boiling, sauté the trinity (onions, bell pepper, celery) until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. After the beans are boiled and drained, add the sautéed vegetables to the beans, then add the ham hock, smoked sausage, seasonings and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2 hours at least, preferably 3, until the whole thing gets nice and creamy. Adjust seasonings as you go along. Stir occasionally, making sure that it doesn't burn and/or stick to the bottom of the pot. (If the beans are old -- six months to a year -- they won't get creamy. Make sure the beans are reasonably fresh. If it's still not getting creamy, take 1 or 2 cups of beans out and mash them, then return them to the pot and stir.)

If you can, let the beans cool in the refrigerator, then reheat and serve for dinner the next day. They'll taste a lot better. When you do this, you'll need to add a little water to get them to the right consistency.

Serve generous spoonfuls of beans over hot, white long-grain rice, with good French bread and good beer. Makes 8 servings.

-- Frommer's Guide to New Orleans

Barbecue Shrimp

A classic New Orleans favorite.

1 1/2 pound butter

1 teaspoon rosemary

1 teaspoon leaf oregano

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red pepper

8 cloves garlic, chopped

4 bay leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

12 large shrimp, unpeeled (16 to 20 to the pound)

Melt butter in a large saucepan and add all ingredients, except shrimp. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and sauté for 4 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and ladle butter sauce over shrimp. Garnish with fresh parsley and three slices of lemon. Serve with French bread and salad for a classic New Orleans delight. Makes 2 servings.

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