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Louisiana Cooking (often referred to as Creole Cooking) is famous throughout the United States and is known for its distinctiveness in many parts of the world. Its fame did not come as a mere accident, but was earned as a result of painstaking care and experimenting over a period of many decades.
In the beginning, gentlemen of high rank who came to Louisiana from France demanded the excellent cooking to which they were accustomed. The inhabitants, eager to please, made a great effort to provide it, sometimes gave them something different and better than they had ever tasted.
The inhabitants were, of course, French themselves and they knew what a Frenchman liked and how he liked it cooked. they also knew something of the cooking methods of other nations whose people had migrated to the colony. In addition, they had learned something of the Native Americans who knew how to cook fish, wild game and corn dishes. They also taught them the use of File' (pronounced fee-lay) in their gumbos.
Later when the Spanish took possession of Louisiana (in 1769) her imperious officers, wishing to live in great splendor, after Spanish fashion, brought their cooks to them. In their opinion a Frenchman could not cook to suit a Spaniard. But they were invited to dinners in the homes of New Orleans and despite their prejudice, they enjoyed their meals. In fact, they instructed their cooks to learn something of Creole cooking.
In the course of time, the French and Spanish (very antagonistic to one another at first) began to mingle, even to marry one another. Thus the best of French and Spanish traditional cooking customs were combined and improved upon.
The Creoles of Louisiana learned a little from he French, Spanish and Native Americans and by a skillful blending and the use of native foods and high seasonings created Creole Cooking.
There was also the Italian influence upon Louisiana or Creole cooking that helped give it more flavor. The Italians made excellent sauces and improved the gravy for meat and fish dishes. But it seems that the Italians, believing in their own style of cooking, refused to be influenced by the French or Spanish.
Why New Orleans Cooking is Different
There are two things that make New Orleans food different from all others. First, as a foundation for every meat or fish dish there is the French "roux" and second, the very liberal use of well-cooked onions. This is most important.
To make the roux, take a heaping tablespoon of pure lard and melt it in an iron skillet. When melted, sprinkle in two rounded tablespoons of flour. Let them cook, stirring all the time, until the mixture is light to medium brown. Add the chopped onions and continue cooking and stirring the mixture until the onions begin to brown a little at the edges. This requires Careful Watching. At this point, as about 1/2 cup of water and two tablespoons of tomato paste to the mixture and continue stirring until combined completely. At this point, you are ready to add your meat, fish or whatever you will be cooking.
An iron skillet is the best utensil for this type of cooking. The iron cooks best over moderate heat and will not burn the roux or onions which often happens when thinner pans are used. It is the rule of French cooking to use a rather hot fire at first while frying the roux and onions, but as soon as the water is added turn the heat down and allow only gentle boiling. This keeps the flavor of the roux instead of letting it go off in steam. Add the water slowly with frequent stirring.
Whenever possible, fresh onions should be used. You can also add small amount of fresh chopped garlic and green bell peppers. They give the roux a delicious taste. The trick is to season your food while it is cooking, now when it is done.
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