Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Quintessential Foods of New Orleans

At mid-day, how about a sandwich? Po' boys were created as a serious meal of a sandwich for "poor boys" with little money. Fillings vary from roast beef, alligator sausage, ham, shrimp, or french fries with gravy; but the bread is always crunchy crusted New Orleans French bread with a lighter than air center. On the other hand, the mighty muffuletta sandwich uses Italian muffuletta bread, smeared with marinated olive spread; it's densely packed, in submarine fashion, with tempting Italian meats and cheeses.

Feeling peckish? Try praline candy: pecans, brown sugar, cream and butter fused in a delightfully crunchy, sweet way.

Evening meals could be boiled crawfish, étouffée, jambalaya, shrimp creole or gumbo. If it's Monday, the time honored tradition is red beans and rice.

America's first cocktail originated in the Big Easy; the Sazerac is cognac with bitters.

The world famous foods of New Orleans comfort, satisfy and delight. As Mark Twain so rightly said, "New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin."

New Orleans Creole and Cajun Foods

It can be hard to split the difference between Cajun and Creole cooking at times. Both use the holy trinity and a good roux. In New Orleans cooking, the trinity contains onion, celery and bell pepper in equal proportions. This differs from the French holy trinity: two parts onion and one part each carrot and celery. A good roux thickens and sometimes imparts flavor. However, roux preparation can stir up hearty debate. It can be made with lard, grease or oil with flour, or may simply contain onions cooked down in butter. One variation even contains coffee.

Cajuns trace their roots to French Arcadians. They settled around the bayous. Being self sufficient, Cajuns sourced ingredients from the waters, marshes and swamps, or grew them on rural homesteads. Their roux tends to be darker. Their food is homey, savory and has depth of flavor.

Creoles, on the other hand, were born in Louisiana from French, Spanish, African, Portuguese, Cuban and Native American stock. Their cooking techniques reflect European influence. Since many Creoles were city dwellers, ingredients were often purchased in shops. Their roux tends to be lighter to medium colored. Their dishes are often rich and complex.

Cajun and Creole cooking often intermingle and that's just fine. What matters most is that the food is flavorful and satisfying.

The city of New Orleans has one of the most well-known and unique culinary traditions of any metropolis in America. Due in large part to the rich cultural melange that's developed during the Big Easy's storied history, it has some of the most diverse cooking one can find in the Northern Hemisphere. For die-hard "foodies", New Orleans is an essential travel destination. Here's a brief summary of New Orleans' finest cooking traditions broken down by category.

Cajun Delights
The term Cajun refers to French immigrants originally from Quebec who were exiled when the British Empire captured Canada in the mid-18th century. Their food emphasizes the use of local fish and game paired with a variety of spices. Fried Catfish is a staple, as is Jambalaya, Gumbo, and Étouffée. Red beans and rice are a primary component of many Cajun dishes, along with numerous types of meat and unique vegetables like okra. Seafood in particular is a big part of Cajun cooking, as shrimp, oysters, crab, and crawfish make frequent appearances in a number of dishes.

Creole Food
As a close cousin to to Cajun food, the Louisiana Creole style of cooking has many influences from a number of different cultures. The main difference is that Creole food is a bit less spicy, and employs tomatoes far more often than Cajun cooking.Shrimp Creole and Pompano en Papillote are particularly popular dishes in New Orleans. Creole food is more commonly served in the cities of Louisiana, while Cajun food is more popular in the rural areas.

French Class and Sophistication
As if the name of the city itself weren't a dead giveaway, New Orleans has a strong French influence in its cooking thanks to the fact that it was founded in 1718 by French explorers. Many of New Orleans' greatest treats are taken directly from the French cooking tradition. Beignets in particular are very popular with locals, as are New Orleans pralines and café au lait.

Final Word
If you can't make a trip to New Orleans in person, you can replicate the experience in your own kitchen by following a few simple New Orleans rules. Remember to use only fresh, authentic ingredients in your New Orleans recipes and don't rely on substitutes. Also, keep in mind that it's difficult to overdo it when it comes to flavor and spice. If you want to try something different and fun for dinner, a traditional New Orleans-style meal is just the ticket.

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