Now, American food is generally maligned and ignored, much like a poor aunt. Mention it to your slack-jawed friends and their mind leaps straight to big greasy hamburgers and twinkies fried in baby blood. A similar connection may be made between Italian food and a gigantic, overbearing Italian mama, leading you inexorably down the path to obesity. One style that blows this ethno-centric, borderline racist assumption out of the water is, the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana. One of the things I really like about Cajun food is the John Candy-big flavours, leaping out at you like a young prince, dressed in head to toe purple velour. If you decide to try out these recipes and put your racism to rest, you’re going to need your Holy Trinity of Capsicum, Celery and Onion. Also important are smoked sausage, cayenne pepper, thyme for seasoning, and some rice. These form the base for the spicy and colourful flavours of Louisiana. Furthermore, as Cajun food forms the poor and rustic counterpart to Creole cuisine, it can accommodate for tight budgets, masses of people and unavailability of produce. Other than the Holy Trinity almost any ingredient can be substituted for something else. In Gumbo and Dirty Rice the meats used can be substituted for any cut of anything you can think of. Now to be fair, I’m just about to steal liberally from Jaimie Oliver’s America book, so any potential litigators please regard this as acknowledgment. Guaranteed
Cajun Blackened Fish
Cajun Blackened fish is basically all about the spicy, delicious rub that goes a fairly solid black. You can use pretty much any fish, although a white fish such as snapper is great. Barbeques are best, as the high heat can really get that black/burnt colour going in the rub (plus, if done inside it can really stink up the house). Serve this with friends and crisp, dry beers. Just try to ignore how ugly it looks and let taste take the lead.
1 Good size fillet of fish per person
2 Teaspoons dried Thyme
2 Teaspoons hungarians style Paprika
1 Minced clove of Garlic
Pinch of Pepper
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
2 Tablespoons of Olive oil
1. Mix up the rub in a large bowl, chuck all the herbs, spices and garlic in along with the olive oil and mix it up. 2. Take your fillets of fish and coat them in the rub. I like to leave it for a few hours after this. 3. Get a grill or a pan going on medium-high with a fair splash of olive oil in the pan. 4. Place the fish in the pan, but don’t crowd it. Cook it until it’s black and then flip to the other side.
Dirty Rice is some tasty fried rice business. The ‘Dirty’ in the title refers not to the trace soil brushed off of your hands after you dealt with that last hooker corpse, but simply to the addition of a topping to rice that changes the colour. This is an awesome dish if you’re having people round as you can just leave it in the pan and put it on the table, let those leeches serve themselves.
1-2 tins of your preferred bean
4 Rashers of BaconSmoked sausage (i.e. Chorizo, ideally Andouille)
Optional: 200g Chicken Livers
150g Duck Giblets
1 Onion roughly chopped
4 Sticks of celery roughly chopped
1-2 Capsicums/bell peppers roughly chopped
3-6 Cloves of garlic
Paprika, Salt & Pepper, Thyme, Olive Oil, Spring Onion to serve
1. Get a large pan like a wok on medium heat with some decent olive oil sizzling and add your diced up smoked meats and duck giblets. Get them nice and brown and peel the skin off of the giblets. 2. Chop up your Holy Trinity of Capsicum, Onions and Celery, and throw them in the pan. 3. Get some rice going in another pot. (I’ll assume you know how to cook rice.) 4. Once the veggies have got a nice colour going, season them with a couple of teaspoons paprika,a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then add your minced garlic and a few sprigs of thyme or a couple of teaspoons of dried thyme. 5. Give that a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, wash your chicken livers in a little milk and finely chop up both the livers and the giblets. Throw them in with everything else. 6. Add drained kidney beans or pre-soaked kidney beans. 7. Fry it up until the meats are cooked through, then add rice and mix it all up. 8. Sprinkle the spring onion all over the top, and put the pan on the table.
If you take anything from this column, take Gumbo. Gumbo is a kind of Hybrid soup/stew thickened with either okra or file powder. Gumbo is pretty much always tasty, but there is really a great depth of subtlety and complexity in the harmony of the flavours. A lot of this complexity is created through the development of the roux, so take time to experiment with different levels and whatever you do, don’t burn it.
4 Chicken drumsticks or thighs (1 p/person)
Smoked Sausage (i.e. Chorizo, Ideally Andouille)
Optional: A couple of rashers of Bacon, Smoked Pork (Ideally Tasso)
3 sticks of Celery roughly chopped
1 Onion roughly chopped
A couple of bell peppers/capsicums roughly chopped
440g tin of Tomatoes
Good handful of roughly chopped Sweet Potato and/or Okra
A mess load of Garlic (3-6 cloves)
Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Thyme, Olive Oil, Flour, Chicken Stock, Salt & Pepper
1. Get a big (preferably cast-iron) pot going on high heat with a good splash of olive oil sizzling. 2. Season the Chicken and smoked meats with liberal sprinkles of paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Add them to the pot and really render that fat out. It will form the basis for your roux. 3. Once they have gotten real brown and delicious looking, sneak in a bit of sausage and remove from the pan, leaving the fat. 4. Add the Holy Trinity and lower the heat. Cook until they get a good colour going. 5. Add your chopped garlic, thyme, okra, sweet potato, tomatoes and chicken stock. 6. Bring to the boil, and then bring down to simmer for around 40 minutes. 7. At this point you should be able to strip the meat off of the drumsticks. Do this and discard the bones. Return the meat to the pot. 8. Serve with rice.
Photography by Max Denton.