Cajun food is the folk cooking of the French-Canadians that settled in the swamps and bayous of Southern Louisiana. As with any people who move to a new place, the Cajuns adapted their native methods to the indigenous ingredients of the region. In Southern Louisiana, they found crab, river shrimp, oysters, crayfish, and a wide range of game that included everything from wild turkeys to frogs. Rice, however, is the staple of Cajun cooking.
The True Flavors of Cajun Cooking
Although most people associate Cajun cooking with the one-pot meal (one really big pot), the true flavors of Cajun cooking can be used in almost any kind of cooking. First of all, we'll look at those one-pot meals, dishes like gumbo and jambalaya. These are thick, hearty dishes filled with meat and vegetables such as sausage, ham, yams, okra, and tomatoes. To truly step up these dishes, grill the primary ingredients before you put them in the pot. That's the best way to really make the meat of any dish stand out. It adds so much flavor.
The Evolution of Cajun Cooking
Of all the cooking traditions of the United States, Cajun has been the one to see the most evolution, from these one-pot classics to Cajun fried turkey, blackened fish (and everything else), and the whole list of Cajun spices, sauces, and seasonings. Cajun has come to mean heat with flavor. By this, we mean that the typical seasoning offers heat from a variety of chilies and peppers and a whole load of flavors that rely on ingredients such as fennel seeds, cinnamon, and cumin. This gives you the ability to add that Cajun flavor to almost any dish you want. We personally give credit to Justin Wilson for this popularization of the Cajun flavor.
Of course, some purists will say that this recipe for a Cajun rub isn't Cajun. Well, look at what most of what the world calls Italian, then go to Italy and eat. The ethnic flavors of food emerge while the recipes evolve. The Cajuns settled in the United States hundreds of years ago but there is no known record of deep-fried turkey until the turn of the century. Justin Wilson himself said he first saw it in the 1930's. Doesn't exactly sound like an age-old recipe to me, but there you go. Cajun cooking evolves and will continue to evolve for a long time yet.
To give you an idea of how to get Cajun flavor into whatever you grill try this simple rub:
- 1 cup paprika
- 1 cup chili powder
- 3/4 cup whole fennel seeds
- 1/2 cup ground cumin
- 1/2 cup garlic powder
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 3 tablespoons dried basil
- 4 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 2 tablespoons white pepper
Grind it all together in a spice grinder and sprinkle over practically everything. We like this one on eggs as well as everything we grill.