Louisiana Creole Cooking and Food
Creole cookery reflects the full-flavored combination of the best of French, Spanish and African cuisines. Its style, with an emphasis on butter and cream, is more sophisticated than Cajun cooking (which uses prodigious amounts of pork fat). Another difference between the two cuisines is that Creole uses more tomatoes and the Cajuns more spices. Both cuisines rely on the 'culinary holy trinity' of chopped green peppers, onions and celery, and make generous use of filé powder. Probably the most famous dish of Creole heritage is gumbo; however, the Cajuns also make gumbos.
Overview of Louisiana Creole Cuisine
A single usage of the term "Creole" cannot be supported in Louisiana because it is used differently by different populations in New Orleans; moreover, other areas of Louisiana have different usages as well of the word "Creole." The original meaning of the word was used during the time that Louisiana was a colony first of France and then of Spain. It meant a person of French or Spanish heritage born in Louisiana whose parents had immigrated to Louisiana. The word "Cajun" refers to people of French heritage who arrived in Louisiana via Canada after the Cajun diaspora from Nova Scotia, formerly Acadia. The Creoles were mostly an urban population but also included those who settled on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and its southern environs on the one hand, and Baton Rouge on the other. The River Road Cookbook by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, still in print since 1958, is widely used by people in New Orleans.
According to the English Wikipedia, Louisiana Creole cuisine is a style of cooking originating in Louisiana (centered on the Greater New Orleans area) that blends French, Spanish, French Caribbean, African, and American influences. It also bears hallmarks of Italian cuisine. It is vaguely similar to Cajun cuisine in ingredients (such as the holy trinity of chopped onions, celery, and green peppers), but the important distinction is that Cajun cuisine arose from the more rustic, provincial French cooking adapted by the Acadians to Louisiana ingredients, whereas the cooking of the Louisiana Creoles tended more toward classical European styles adapted to local foodstuffs. Broadly speaking, the French influence in Cajun cuisine is descended from various French Provincial cuisines of the peasantry, while Creole cuisine evolved in the homes of well-to-do aristocrats, or those who imitated their lifestyle. Although the Creole cuisine is closely identified with New Orleans culture today, much of it evolved in the country plantation estates so beloved of the pre-Civil War Creoles. (Despite its aristocratic French roots, Creole cuisine does not include Gard-Manger or other extremely lavish styles of the Classical Paris cuisine.)
The Spanish influences on Creole cuisine were in the supreme importance of rice and the introduction of beans. The Spanish also used tomatoes extensively, which had not been a frequent ingredient in the earlier French era. Pasta and tomato sauces arrived during the period when New Orleans was a popular destination for Italian immigrants (roughly, 1815 to 1925). Many Italians became grocers, bakers, cheese makers and orchard farmers, and so influenced the Creole cuisine in New Orleans and its suburbs. The African influence, which was extensive, came about because nearly all servants were African-American, as were many of the cooks in restaurants and cafes.
The first French and Spanish Creole cookbooks date back to the era before the Louisiana Purchase. The first Creole cookbook in English was La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous For Its Cuisine, written by Lafcadio Hearn and published in 1885. The full text and page images can be found at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.
Of major influence on older New Orleans cooks is River Road Recipes by the Junior League of Baton Rouge; it has been in print continuously since 1958. In addition, The Plantation Cookbook by the Junior League of New Orleans is essential; it has been in print since 1972. The Picayune's Creole Cookbook was compiled at the turn of the century to assure a cuisine of Creole heritage for future generations; it was reprinted and re-designed on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper in 1987. The New Orleans Cookbook, by Rima and Richard H. Collin, was originally published in 1975 and still in print; it has been part of every New Orleans cook's library since it was first published.
Also of enormous influence on creole cuisine are the older restaurants of New Orleans, namely, Antoine's, Galatoire's, and Arnaud's.
Starting in the 1980s, Cajun influence became important, spurred by the popular restaurant of Chef Paul Prudhomme. A national interest in Cajun cooking developed, and many tourists went to New Orleans expecting to find Cajun food there (being unaware that the city was culturally and geographically separate from Acadiana), so entrepreneurs opened or rebranded restaurants to meet this demand. The "New New Orleans Cooking" of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse includes both Cajun and Creole dishes. In his writings and TV shows, Lagasse both draws the distinction between Cajun and Creole and explains where they overlap.
With the rise of Modern American Cooking in the 1980s, a New Creole (or Nouvelle Creole) strain began to emerge. This movement is characterized in part by a renewed emphasis on fresh ingredients and lighter preparations, and in part by an outreach to other culinary traditions, including Cajun, Southern, Southwestern, and to a lesser degree Vietnamese. While the Cajun food craze eventually passed, Modern Creole has remained as a predominant force in most major New Orleans restaurants.
Louisiana Creole cuisine is typified by shellfish dishes, with French inspiration. Local fish, shellfish, and vegetables are often seen in menus. Gulf fish are served such as trout and redfish. Shellfish dishes are served as both appetizers and entrees, including shrimp remoulade, oysters Bienville, oysters en brochette, and oysters Rockefeller. Other seafood entrees include Shrimp Creole, fried or grilled soft shell crabs, and grilled pompano, a highly prized fish from the open ocean waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Soup dishes include seafood gumbo made with okra; turtle soup; and Oyster Stew, a soup made with milk and oysters. Typical vegetables are rice, which is served with many dishes, and eggplant. Local coffee importers endure despite national competition, because coffee is roasted and prepared with methods that are not used elswhere in the U.S. Coffee is dark roast, and may be prepared with or without chicory; Cafe au lait, a breakfast coffee, is made with equal parts of hot coffee and scalded milk. Creole tomatoes, which are vine ripened tomatoes from local farms, are eaten in salads or used in Shrimp Creole and other recipes. Breakfast may include pain perdue, which is made from sliced French bread immersed in egg, and then pan fried; or calas tous chauds, a fried rice fritter.
NOTE: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH MAY REFER TO HAITIAN CREOLE CUISINE. Except for dirty rice, none of these dishes is eaten in Louisiana.
The accras, sometimes called amarindes, are among the most popular snacks and they are basically a sort of doughnuts, but instead of a creamy and sweet filling, they have cod and vegetables and they are served hot. The souskai is a local dish which is similar to a salad, as it contains green fruits, which are at first grated and then macerated in lemon juice and spices like salt and a hot kind of pepper. The Creole cuisine includes both light meat meals and complex and rich meat dishes, represented by roasted pig or goat. The balaou is a dish that includes small and long fish with various spices and the famous Creole shrimp is served with Mandalay sauce. The cabri is a famous goat dish, which is prepared either as colombo or smoked. The meat is served with rice, especially dirty rice, which is made of chopped onions and celery, garlic and parsley.
Preparation Methods for Creole Cooking
The Creole cooking is characterized by numerous preparation methods and techniques, ranging from the simple ones to complicated and complex methods. Seafood can be simply prepared, boiled with red pepper products. Due to the fact that there is a significant French influence in the Creole cuisine, fresh salad greens are also very popular.
Special Equipment for Creole Cooking
The Creole cooking equipment is very much like the American and the European ones, but with some more artistic and exotic elements, borrowed from the Caribbean culinary culture, ceramics and pottery. The basic elements that are needed when cooking in the Creole style are the regular cutlery, both the wide and the flat plates, various bowls and frying pans– as frying is a common preparation method in this cuisine. Due to the fact that one of the most important characteristics of this cuisine or, better said, of this blend of various cuisines, is spicy food, a spice rack is very much a necessity.
Creole Food Traditions and Festivals
There are many religious groups in Louisiana. There are many Catholics in the South of the region, where Christmas and Easter are significant holidays – on these occasions, roasted pig, smoked goat or lamb steak are served, together with the traditional punch. In this region, various voodoo, African and Indian rituals can be found. Generally, the Indian food and especially the celebration Indian food are very spicy and curry or cayenne is among the most used spices. There are various folk and culture festivals or activities in Louisiana, as well. Among these, there are Foodways Demonstration Sessions, where chefs from all over the state and not only, present their local specialties, representing the cuisines or mixtures of Italian, Isleno, African-American, Norwegian, Anglo-Scots-Irish, Creole, Cajun, Hispanic, and Native American. Besides these, in Cajun Louisiana there is the pig roast tradition, which is also characteristic to the French cuisine and culture, also called la boucherie.
People in Creole Food
- Lafcadio Hearn
- Antoine Alciatore
- Pierre Galatoire
- Arnaud Cazenave
- Are you into Creole Cooking and would like to be interviewed?
The Creole people are very passionate about they culinary culture, cuisine, cooking techniques and specific elements and they give their best when trying to reproduce a specific and traditional Creole dish. Still, due to the fact that the Creole cuisine is a blend of numerous and distinctive, yet significant cuisines, the Creole chefs combine in an optimum way all their characteristic elements and form a unique, exotic, yet modern cuisine. By trying to conserve this particularity of the Creole cuisine, the Creole food chefs are very fond of their traditions and old culinary habits, which are the most important aspect when cooking, eating and presenting the traditional food.
- The full text and page images of Lafcadio Hearn's La Cuisine Creole can be found here at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.
- The full text and page images of Célestine Eustis's Cooking in Old Creole Days can be found here at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.