Roux - A combination of equal parts flour and fat (typically vegetable oil but sometimes butter-in the French tradition-or lard). The mixture is stirred constantly over low heat until it's a rich brown color. A roux is the basis of many gumbos and stews, serving as a thickener and flavor enhancer.
The "Trinity" or "Seasonings" - Also simply called "seasonings," the "trinity" of chopped and sautéed onions, celery, and green bell peppers is used generously in both Creole and Cajun recipes. (In Acadiana and New Orleans , many cooks also add garlic.) This mixture flavors a wide variety of sauces and dishes, including étouffée, gumbo, jambalaya, and sauce piquante-a thick stewlike mixture containing the trinity, tomatoes, and spices, along with chicken, rabbit, alligator, turtle, or wild game.
Andouille - a Cajun smoked sausage made of pork and spices, including cayenne and garlic.
Boudin - a Cajun sausage made with bits of pork-generally including liver-and rice, seasoned with onions, parsley, and various spices. The sausage (and the name) originated in France , but Cajun versions tend to be spicier.
Crawfish - These lobsterlike freshwater crustaceans (elsewhere called crayfish) thrive in the swamps of Southern Louisiana . Until the late 1950s, crawfish were eaten almost exclusively by fishermen who caught the crustaceans in the Atchafalaya Basin . Crawfish began to achieve wider recognition thanks, in part, to the annual crawfish festival held in the town of Breaux Bridge in St. Martin Parish since 1959 (as well as the celebrity status achieved by Louisiana chefs and the cuisine in general). Though crawfish are now farmed and available almost year-round, spring is when they were traditionally harvested, and it's still their best season. They're eaten in a variety of ways, including boiled with spices, potatoes, and corn (a "crawfish boil" is a great party), fried, in stews, pies, bisques, jambalayas, and in éetouffée, a dish of peeled crawfish tails, smothered with onions, bell peppers, and celery, and thickened a bit with flour or cornstarch. Several online retailers, including CajunGrocer.com, ship live crawfish, as well as par-cooked crawfish tails (perfect for étouffé).
Chili Peppers - Much of Cajun food has a spicy kick thanks to chili powders and sauces. Cayenne powder, a common ingredient in a wide range of dishes, is made from dried, ground fruits and seeds of various types of capsicum peppers, including the one from which it takes its name (pictured). Tabasco sauce, the most famous condiment from Louisiana , is made from fermented and aged Tabasco peppers (also in the capsicum family).
Filé powder - This green powder-made from ground sassafras leaves-is used to thicken and flavor gumbo. Sassafras and filé powder were introduced to Cajun and Creole cuisine by Native Americans, including the Chocktaw Indians, who used it medicinally and in cooking. The powder was originally used in Cajun and Creole cooking as a substitute for okra (which also thickens and gives viscosity to stews). Cajun cooking authority Eula Mae Doré warns against adding filé powder to gumbo before removing it from the heat (it will make the stew gummy) or using it in a gumbo made with okra (it will make it stringy and ropey). Others contend that it's fine to use a small amount of filé even in okra gumbos and wouldn't forfeit its characteristic flavor. Filé is available from specialty grocers and online-try the artisan hand-pounded filé from unclebillspices.com.
Red Beans - Beans, including red kidney beans, were introduced from Mexico and cultivated by Native Americans in Louisiana , John D. Folse explains in The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine. Red Beans and Rice-the beans cooked with ham hocks, onions, and other seasonings, served over long-grain white rice-is a famous New Orleans dish typically eaten on Mondays (the leftover ham bone from Sunday dinner was used to flavor the beans). Economical dishes like this were popularized by the many African American cooks who worked in the homes and restaurants of New Orleans .
Tasso -This super-smoky Cajun ham is seasoned with cayenne pepper, garlic, and salt. Small pieces of it are used as a seasoning for beans, jambalaya, vegetables, and other dishes. "The word 'tasso' is believed to have come from the Spanish word 'tasajo,'" explains John Folse in The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine.
By Marcelle Bienvenu
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