The Cajuns originated in the South of France, emigrated to Nova Scotia, and then were displaced in the mid-1700’s by the British, many of them migrating to Louisiana. So, Cajun cooking is really French country cooking, embellished with American ingredients. The large French population in Louisiana embraced the Arcadians, and the culture was one of fishing, trapping, and farming. Many recipes simply include what is available, often game or fresh seafood. The seasonings feature File powder (sassafras), parsley, bay leaves (American bay laurel), cayenne and black pepper with a variety of other hot or sweet peppers.
Jacques Gaspard, Real Cajun Recipes, and the original chef Paul Pruhomme, a Cajun descendant, books and recipes are all good sources of authentic Cajun cooking. There is a distinction between the Cajun and the Creole cultures of Louisiana, with the latter including many other cultures such as African, Native American, Italian, and Spanish along with the French base. Generally, Creole cooking is city-cooking, more complex and sophisticated than the older French Cajun style.
The Trinity” of Cajun cooking – bell pepper, onion, and celery, can be used in almost everything. Just chop it all up, and add to the base of soups, stews, roasts, sauces. The proportions of the ingredients bring different flavors to each recipe. Many kinds of hot and sweet peppers grow wild in Louisiana, and these were incorporated in the early years of the Acadians’ adaption to the area. There are banana, bell, Tabasco, jalapeno, cayenne or finger-chilis, and birds-eye cherry peppers. Most are used fresh, with black and white peppers usually used dried and ground, and also cayenne is used both ways.
A key to blending the seasonings is also in the longer cooking methods that are traditional to Cajun-style cuisine. Often, part of the base-seasonings are “caramelized” and then the rest added much later, to refine the taste and add a fresh edge to the mix.
Cajun cooking relies upon the distinct seasonings and the endless variations allowed. The creative cook can make anything delightful, as long as fresh ingredients and a mix of spices and herbs. Along with the above-mentioned classics, sage, garlic and mustard are often included in traditional Cajun cookery. Note that the sassafras file powder, ground from young leaves of the tree, is a seasoning as well as a thickening agent.
Cajun cooking perhaps became most globally known in the late 1970’s as Paul Prudhomme came into fame, but Justin Wilson was also in the running, having written seven Cajun cookbooks around the same time and filmed cooking shows through the next three decades. Everyone who enjoys good food, and/or grew up in Louisiana, is aware of the unique tastes of Cajun seasonings.