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CREOLE-CAJUN COOKING

(NOTE: the following is an excerpt from a cookbook
put out by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.)

Louisiana's grand old cuisine sparkles more than ever
By Gene Bourg
Times-Picayune Restaurant Critic

South Louisiana Cooking is not only one of the country's most popular cuisines, it's also one of the most misunderstood.

Menus in restaurants from New York to San Francisco (and increasingly in New Orleans, too) would have us believe that the pinnacle of Creole-Cajun cooking is something blackened and peppered with jalapeno.

The facts are that, in the 200-year history of the region's cooking, the high-heat frying process called blackening has no historical or regional antecedents prior to the early 1980s, and that ground cayenne pepper, rather than flaked jalapeno, always has been the strongest such spice used by traditional Creole and Cajun cooks.

Historically, the two cooking styles are fairly distinct, although they overlap in many dishes.

Cajun cuisine in its purest form is the earthy and robust creation of fishermen and farmers in the bayou country of southwest Louisiana, which remains the only place you'll find Cajun food that has not been refined and urbanized for restaurant customers.

The work "Cajun" comes to us from "Acadia," the name given a 17th century colony of French settlers in southeastern Canada. In the mid-18th century, thousands of Acadians were exiled and found their way to Louisiana.

From the time they arrived here, Acadian cooks have subsisted on all kinds of finfish from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as crabs, shrimp, oysters and crawfish from the state's vast and incredibly rich wetlands, pork and poultry from their farms and wild ducks from the marshes, all of them cooked with the hearty seasonings they brought or found in abundance.

Creole food is more citified, often a shade more delicate, in both preparation and presentation, with such exceptions as remoulade, a cold sauce for shrimp or crabmeat that bristles with cayenne, hot mustard or horseradish. But Creole cooks just as often use the same meats, seafoods and seasonings used in the bayou country, and the fullness of the flavors are similar.

That's because both the rural Acadians and the cosmopolitan Creoles drew inspiration not only from France but also from Africa (where okra comes from), Spain (a Louisiana jambalaya is a close cousin of a Spanish paella) and the native Indians, who provided corn and indigenous herbs.

Cajuns and Creoles have always had such easily available herbs and spices as bay leaf, cayenne, sweet peppers, parsley, scallions, onions and garlic. Some of those are indispensable to the roux, a paste of flour cooked down with lard or oil and green seasonings to become the base for gumbos and stews.

Gumbos, in hundreds of combinations of meat, seafoods and seasonings, are often thickened further with slices of okra or, less frequently, the powder of ground sassafras, called file.

For more than two centuries, south Louisiana cooks have been absorbing and adapting whatever new ideas found their way up the Mississippi River and through the bayous. Much of this enrichment can be credited to the emigrants from Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Ireland, who came to the bustling port city of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Almost from the beginning preserving the integrity of New Orleans' remarkable cuisine was largely the responsibility of legions of black cooks who worked in the homes and restaurants of the city. In addition, they are the people who originated some of the more economical dishes that have solid places in the pantheon of New Orleans cuisine - such delicacies as red beans and rice, stuffed sweet peppers and Southern fried chicken.

Experienced eaters approaching south Louisiana cooking for the first time are forewarned: Courses often do not follow the same gradations of intensity and amount in a classic European meal. Here, an appetizer can be sublet and light, as in a bit of lump crabmeat with mayonnaise, or it can be very spicy and heavy, as in a big bowl of gumbo of seafood and andouille.

Meanwhile, restaurant chefs in south Louisiana are continuing the longstanding practice of absorbing and adapting, revising and inventing. It's what vitalizes and enriches the basic Creole and Cajun styles.

Many staple ingredients in New Orleans' contemporary restaurant kitchens are newcomers to the regional cooking. Pasta, especially fettuccine, has become as commonplace as rice, probably because pasta holds sauces so well and is so compatible with seafood. Fresh mussels, clams and dozens of fruits and vegetables that once were impossible to find here are now accepted as they are in other parts of the country.

And contemporary chefs are using a lighter touch with fish and vegetables. Grilled Gulf fishes in light, herbal butter sauces are immensely popular, and crisply done vegetables are now tossed in seasoned butters more often than they're cooked the old-fashioned way - soaked in pork fat for as much as an hour.

So, a restaurant-goer's options in America's favorite restaurant city are greater than ever.
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Explanation of French terms used in cooking

In preparing the Creole Cook Book the Picayune has sought to overcome the great difficulty that the majority of people outside Louisiana experience in understanding French terms, as applied to various dishes and orders of service. Discussions have been going on in all parts of the country of late as to the desirability of abolishing all French terms on bills of fare, one celebrated newspaper declaring: "What is the use of calling a dish the 'Canard Canvasback,' when there is no French name for the famous Canvasback Duck?"

All this is very amusing down here in Louisiana, where the Canvasback Duck has always been known as the Canard de Cheval. And so with other dishes. The use of French, however, continues in bills of fare prepared for all distinguished banquets, etc., critics to the contrary notwithstanding, and will continue, because the French order of service is the one accepted the world over, in all state and official gatherings, and the pretty touch given to a dish called by a French name is one the ladies especially will be slow to give up. An air of distinction is conferred upon even a homely dish by calling it by its French name, and, as remarked above, all criticisms against the practice will not do away with the usage.

The Picayune has sought to overcome the difficulty experienced by those who are not acquainted with the French language and French terms in cooking by giving with each recipe not only the correct English name of the dish, but the French one also. It now proposes to further assist housekeepers and caterers generally by giving the definitions of a few additional French terms used in cooking and serving dishes:

Assaissonnement: A seasoning; a salad dressing.

Assaissonnement Aromatique: An aromatic seasoning, such as parsley, cheuril, etc.

Aspic: This is a meat jelly or savory for cold dishes. Boned Turkey Galantine, Calf's Foot Jelly, Cold Tongue, Cold Daube, are all termed En Aspic.

Au Gratin: All baked or roasted dishes that are prepared with crumbs grated and sprinkled over are called Au Gratin

Bouchees: A bouchee indicates a mouthful, and is from the French bouche, the mouth. It is applied in cooking to all very thin, small patties or cakes, as Bouchees dhuitres, Bouchees a la Reine, etc.

Bonne Bouche: A good mouthful.

Baba: A peculiar Creole sweet cake, made of yeast, flour, milk and eggs.

Bisque: A soup made of shell fish. It is red in color, such as Crawfish Bisque, the shells of which are boiled and mashed and pounded and strained and added to the soup stock. A Lobster Bisque may be prepared after the same manner as the Crawfish Bisque in latitudes where lobster may be obtained fresh. The bisque then becomes a Bisque dhomard.

Bisque decrevisse: A Crawfish Bisque or soup.

Blanchair: To blanch. To blanch an article set it on the fire till it boils, and then plunge in cold water. This rule applies to vegetables, poultry, nuts, almonds, etc. The skin is thus removed and the article is blanched. Blanching also means simply to scald, such as blanching oysters.

Bouillon: A Bouillon is a clear soup, much stronger than broth, and yet not quite so strong as Consomme.

Boudins: A form of sausage.

Boulettes: A small ball of meat, fish, etc., hashed and formed in balls and fried.

Bouillabaisse: A famous French-Creole way of cooking fish, the French using the Sturgeon and Perch, the Creoles the Redfish and Red Snapper. The fish is cooked to the point where it begins to boil; then you must stop on the instant. Hence the word Bouillabaisse from Bouillir, to boil, and Baisse, to stop.

Braise: To smother. All meats, fish, vegetables, etc., cooked in a closely covered stewpan, so as to retain not only their own flavor, but those of all other ingredients entering into the dish, are termed Braise, or a la Braise.

Brioche: This is our delightful Creole breakfast cake made of slightly sweetened egg and milk, batter and yeast set to rise over night, and formed into Brioche, or cake, with a central cake for a head, and the other cakes arranged, to the number of six or eight around, and sprinkled with sugar.

Canapes: On toast. Anything served on toast is called sur Canapes.

Canelle: Cinnamon.

Caneton (masculine) Canette (feminine): Duckling.

Canneton: Meat stuffed and rolled up; forcemeat balls.

Charcuterie: The term for all sausage.

Civet: A stew made of hare and so called because of the flavor of chives (cives) that enters into its composition.

Consomme: A clear soup that has been boiled down to almost a jelly-broth, and which is very rich.

Consomme Dore: A gilded or golden yellow Consomme.

A la Creme: With cream, as Sauce a la Creme, etc.

Creme a la Glace: Ice Cream.

Coup de Milieu: A middle drink or course served in the middle of the meal, just before the roast, as Ponche a la Cardinale, Roman Punch, Sorbet a la Royale, etc.

Crapaud: A toad; bullfrog.

A la Crapaudine: Crapaudine means like toadstool, or stone, as Pigeons a la Crapaudine, which means pigeons cooked and dressed to resemble little toadstools or frogs on a stone.

Courtbouillon: A fish stew, generally made of Redfish.

Courtbouillon a la Creole: A stew of Redfish, to which Wine is added.

Croutons: Crusts of bread, cut like dice or in any fancy shape, and toasted or fried in butter.

Croustades: Pieces of bread larger than Croutons toasted or fried in butter or shortening, and used to serve minces or meats upon.

Dindonneau: A turkey chick.

Dariole: A custard pie.

Diable: The devil.

A la Diable: According to the devil. Generally applied to hot, fiery preparations of meats, sauces, etc.

Eau de Vie: Brandy or Whiskey. Eau de Vie properly means "water of life."

Entree: A side dish, served before or between courses, at dinner.

Entremet: A small by-dish. Entremets are sweet or otherwise.

Entremet Sucre: A sweet by-dish. Sweet entremets are generally served towards the close of the meal, just after the roasts.

Flan: A custard.

Fondue: To melt. Generally applied to a light preparation of melted cheese, such as Welsh Rarebit.

Fondant: Sugar boiled and beaten to a cream paste.

Granits: Aromatized fruit waters.

Grille: Broiled.

Hors d'oeuvre: A by-dish; an outwork, a digression. Under this term are classed all dishes that are regarded simply as accessories to a meal, and designed to excite the appetite, but not to sate it. It is undoubtedly because they are placed on the table outside or apart from other dishes that they have been so called.

A la Jardiniere: According to the gardener's wife.

Matelote: A rich fish stew, made with Wine.

Mayonnaise: A rich salad dressing, made with eggs, oil, vinegar, etc., and served with chicken, shrimp, fish salad generally.

Meringue: The whites of eggs beaten to a stiff froth with sugar.

Meringuee: Covered with a meringue.

Marinade: A rich liquor of spices, vingegar or wine, etc., in which beef or fish are steeped for several hours before cooking.

A la Mode: After a mode or fashion, as Beef a la Mode - Daube.

Mironton: Cold boiled meat, hashed and warmed over, and served in various ways.

Neige: Snow.

A la Neige: Snowy, like snow.

Pate: A batter; a pie dough.

Pates: Small pies or patties of oysters, meats, fruits, etc.

Panache: Mottled, variegated. As Creme Panachee, or Variegated Ice Cream.

Poulet: A chicken.

A la Poulette: As a chicken; for instance, a Sauce a la Poulette always has eggs giving the distinctive name a la Poulette.

Praline: A distinctive Creole sugar cake made of cocoanut and sugar or pecans and sugar.

Pralinee: Sugared, or sugar-coated.

Piment: Pepper.

Pimente: Peppered.

Piquante: A sauce of piquant flavor, vinegar or acid predominating, and highly seasoned with pepper.

A la Plaque: A Plaque is a flat baking pan or griddle. Articles baked in it are called a la Plaque, as Pan Bread, or Pain a la Plaque.

Quenelles: Meat, liver, fish or potatoes chopped and highly seasoned and rolled into balls or Roulettes and boiled and served as a garnish.

Ragout: A rich stew of meat or poultry, generally made with vegetables, such as mushrooms, green peas, truffles, potatoes, etc.

Ratafia: A kind of Liqueur or Wine Cordial.

Remoulade: A dressing for salads, somewhat like the Mayonnaise, but differing in this, that the eggs are all hard-boiled and rubbed in a mortar with mustard, vinegar, powdered spice, minced garlic, etc.

Releves: A side dish; a term applied when it is desired to serve another dish beside an entree.

Rissoles: Minced meat or fish, rolled in thin pastry and fried.

Roux (pronounced "Rue"): A mixture of flour and butter, or flour and lard, used as a foundation for sauces or as a foundation for stews, salmis, etc.

Roti: A roast.

Saute: To smother and toss meats, fowl, vegetables, etc., over low heat in butter or fat.

Savarin: A wine cake.

Salmis: A rich stew of venison, duck or other game, cut up and dressed, generally with wine.

Salmigondis: A hotch-potch of game, such as venison, etc.

Saucissons de Lyons: Bologna Sausage.

Salade d'anchois: Anchovy Salad.

Souffle: An omelette, pudding or custard, thoroughly beaten and whipped up until it becomes so light that when cooked it must be eaten immediately, or else it will fall.

Talmouse: A cheese cake.

Tarte: A pie.

Tartelette: A small tart.

Tartine danchois: Anchovy Tartines; circles of brown bread, spread with anchovy paste, yolks and whites of hard-boiled eggs, chopped fine, also chopped pickles, all arranged in alternate rows.

Timbale: A pie cooked in a mold. In Macaroni en Timbale the macaroni is cooked in the cheese head.

Vinaigrette: A sauce or salad dressing, made of salt and pepper, vinegar predominating.

Vol-au-Vent: A chicken, meat, fish or game pie, baked in a light puff paste, and served as an entree.

Go back to the Mardi Gras page, or on to Creole-Cajun Recipes.