Creole Favorites  

Craw Fish

In Louisiana, the crawfish is everywhere. Throughout the region, you will see its bright red, beady-eyed visage staring at you from billboards and tourist brochures. Cartoon renditions of the sharp-clawed crustacean dance on souvenir T-shirts and festival posters. During springtime, restaurant and seafood market signs advertise Hot Boiled Crawfish, and the creature features on nearly every menu, from classy restaurants in the French Quarter to no-frills diners near the bayou.

Resembling tiny lobsters, crawfish grow wild in the freshwater wetlands of Louisiana and, through aquaculture (water farming), provide the state with a profitable industry. Elsewhere in the world, the crawfish goes by many other names, including écrivesse in France, yabby in Australia and crawdad or mudbug elsewhere in the States - but here in Louisiana, it's crawfish and only crawfish. Once considered a food of poverty and desperation, the crawfish is now a celebrated cornerstone of the state's diverse food culture. If you leave Louisiana without once tasting crawfish, you had better book a ticket back.


Not so much a dessert as a round-the-clock breakfast specialty akin to the common doughnut. Flat squares of dough are flash-fried to golden, puffy glory, dusted liberally with powdered (confectioner's) sugar, and served scorching hot. Good any time of day (even after a big meal) with a cup of rich cafe au lait. Ground zero for this treat is Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter

In its broadest sense, gumbo is a spicy, full-bodied

soup/stew traditionally served (like many French Louisiana specialties) over starchy steamed rice. The primary ingredients- which can include products from the sea, land, and air- vary from cook to cook and pot to pot.

For any Louisiana cook, gumbo is the personal interpretation of a classic process and thier highly individualized culinary thumbprint. Close to the coast, you can find gumbos teeming with all manner of seafood (oysters, jumbo shrimp, half-shelled crabs) whilde prairie-bred Cajuns turn to their barnyard and smokehouse traditions for inspiration. Creole cooks in New Orleans often add tomato to their gumbos.

The distinctively thick texture that seperates gumbo from the broth-based soup family comes from the use of various thickening agents: dark roux, okra of the late addition of filé (FEE-lay; crushed sassafras leaves). Each techniques has its adherents, with some cooks opting to use combinations of the three (roux and okra, filé and roux).


Red Beans (& Rice)

The combinations of red beans and rice is a lunch tradition synonymous with Monday's throughout the state, but especially in New Orleans. Before the advent of modern appliances, Monday was traditionally wash day, and in a world before white goods, it took all day to hand-wash the family laundry, So a pot of red beans would go on the stove along with the ham bone left over from Sunday dinner, and the longer it cooked, the better it tasted . By the time the washing was finished, supper was ready.

In the absence of red beans, larger maroon kidney beans are often substituted. The flavoring meat can also be spicy andouille sausage or chunks of pork tasso, a long-smoked Cajun speciality.

Hearty, rice-based jambalaya (johm-buh-LIE-uh) is a Louisiana classic. It is loosely based on Spain's paella, although in practical terms it's probably closer to arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). Jambalaya can include just about any combination of fowl, shellfish or meat, but usually includes ham, hence the dish's name (ham in Spanish is jamon). The meaty ingredients are sauteed with onions, bell pepper, and celery, and cooked with raw rice and water into a flavorful mix of textures.

Jambalaya is a flexible workaday dish that carries with it an added level of informality, as it is less susceptible to culinary purism and caters well to Louisiana kitchen improvisation. Whatever's on hand can alwas fit into a jambalaya. There are, however, come stylistic differences between city and country jambalayas- New Orleans Creole versions are more likely to incorporate tomatoes into the mix, but you can also find Cajun cooks that add the tangy fruit to their versions (even though they'd never add it to their gumbos



Shrimp Creole



This Cajun specialy sausage is made with a mixture of pork, pork liver, green onions, green bell peppers, spices and cooked rice, piped into sausage casing. The most common version, boudin blanc (white boudin), is sold by the link in read-to-eat from in groceries, meat markets and gas stations all over Acadiana. It's sometimes referred to as Cajun fast food and is eaten boudin, cut a link in half, insert an open end into our mouth, and slowly squeeze the filling out by the mouthful. Even though you can eat the elastic casing, it's considered questionable form.
Another rare variation, boudin rouge (red boudin) uses the blood of the freshly slaughtered pig. Boudin rouge can't be sold commercially due to health regulations governing the use of blood in porducts, but is is still made by families and some butchers on the side. If you meet the right people, your trip could be enriched with a sampling of the forbidden sausage.


Tasso is another highly prized butcher shop specialty. It's basically a lean chunk of ham, cured with herbs and spices, filé (crushed sassafras leaves) and then smoked until it reaches the tough consistency of beef jerky. It is primarily used in small portions as a flavoring for soups, sauces and beans. Tasso is ridiculously hard to come by outside Louisiana so don't miss the chance to sample some.


The Poboy



Travelers may know this versatile specialty by one of its other names; submarine, grinder, or hoagie to name but a few. But make no mistake, New Orleans' poboy looms large in the city's food culture and transcends the meager classification of 'sandwich'.

Served on a soft yet crunchy loaf of local French bread, the poboy provides on-the-go sustenance and prevents hunger pangs in every corner of the state. Served everywhere from neighborhood groceries to interstate gas stations, poboys are the fast food of Louisiana.



Creole Rice


When a meal in French Louisiana doesn't come wrapped in a crunchy poboy rolls, odds are that it's served on a bed of white rice. Many signature dishes from both the Creole and Cajun traditions are absolutely inseparable from the low-maintance grain.

Whether you're digging into a tangy chicken sauce piquante (spicy tomato-based stew), and earthy boucherie reintier de cochon (pork backbone stew), or a traditional Monday helping of slow-cooked red beans, the bowl or plate will start off with a healthy scoop of rice. The one constant of gumbo- be it seafood, poultry, or game - is the phrase 'serve over rice'.
Louisiana rice consumption is considerably higher than the rest of the nation, and even rivals that of some Asian countries. So strong is the local rice culture that in the 1970s, Japanese appliance companies successfully marketed automatic rice cookers to the home cooks of Southern Louisiana.



Roux (Gravy)

It's been said that every Cajun recipe (and many a Creole soup and sauce) starts with the five-word phrase, "first, you make a roux," and with good reason. The classic concoction gives the Cajun dishes their characteristic richness and deep, nutty flavor. The recipe for roux hails from the French kitchen and is the primary thickener and flavoring agent in gumbos, etoufees, and other Acadian standbys.

Louisiana Pepper Sauce

One local use for the hot pepper (a successful transplant from elsewhere in the Americas) is in the vinegar-based hot sauce that are offered as standard seasoning in Louisiana restaurants. A bottle of the local hot sauces will often be placed on every table along with salt and pepper shakers.

Usually a fermented mix of peppers pods, salt and vineger, pepper sauces have departed from the standard red-pepper variety in recent years. The ubiquitous Tabasco Sauce, produced by Avery Island's McIIhenny dynasty, has recently expanded it's line to include other peppery bases such as green jalapeno, mild garlic, and painful habanero.