by Katie Fletcher
The kitchens of South Louisiana are blessed with some of the best chefs in the world. The food is just as spicy and diverse as the people who prepare it. It’s southern food with extra flavor, extra calories, and extra love. Everybody’s grandma makes the greatest gumbo, and everybody’s dad boils the best crawfish. Here are a couple of things that make the food down here a little bit different.
It all starts with the holy trinity. I’m not talking about religion; I’m talking about the sacred mixture of onions, bell peppers, and celery. These three vegetables are the backbone to many South Louisiana dishes. The smell of the trinity cooking can instantly make a mouth water and a crowd form in the kitchen around the old cast iron pot it’s cooking in. The trinity is usually, but not always broken down into two small onions, one large bell pepper, and three to four ribs of celery. The trinity is chopped and sautéed to create the base for jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée, stew, sauce piquante, and so many other Louisiana favorites.
Recipes in South Louisiana are passed down from generation to generation. Whether they are scribbled down or memorized they are held close to the hearts of the people that enjoy them. When a recipe is written down it is often times hard to recreate because the measurements are not the average teaspoon, cup, or oz. My grandma, like many other Cajuns, has her own measuring system. I have tried countless times to cook her recipes but they never come out the same. There’s something about the way she does things that makes everything taste just right. Over the years I have watched her cook and her measurements can be roughly translated to: “A pinch of salt.” About a teaspoon, she uses this measurement when she’s adding salt to bread dough, or a pot of food.
“Equal parts flour and oil.” About ¾ cup of each to make a roux for a Gumbo or stew, it gets a little tricky when it’s an extra large gumbo for the whole family.
“A handful or two.” About a cup to two cups, this can be anything from nuts in a bread pudding to crawfish tails in a bisque.
“A dash of. “ About ¼ teaspoon, usually referring to spicy ingredients like Cayenne and Tabasco.
“Just enough to cover.” About two cups of rice and three and a half cups of water. To transfer the rice to the pot she always uses a plastic parade cup, that’s about as far as measuring cups go for “A heaving spoonful” About a tablespoon, she uses this measurement when talking about sugar, but she always sneaks in a little more. Her motto: “It can never be too sweet.”
Meat and Seafood
Food doesn’t get much more local than Louisiana. From a young age, children are taught how to peel crawfish and shrimp. They know to how to ‘pinch the tails’ before they know how to tie their shoes. Food here is fresh and seasonal. Fish are caught the same day they are fried. Louisiana is covered in water making it the perfect place for fishing. People spend hours fishing their favorite spots to bring home ice chests of fish to clean and eat. Crabs are picked apart to get the ‘good meat’ for soups and stews. Oysters are very popular and can be served many different ways. A common way is too shuck it and eat it raw straight from the shell with hot sauce or ketchup. The meat around here can get kind of wild. Sure we eat chicken, pork and beef, but to some South Louisianans turtle, alligator, and frog legs are delicacies. It’s not uncommon for chili to be made with deer meat or for duck to be served with rice and gravy. People take pride in catching and hunting their food and are always willing to throw it in a pot and share it with family and friends.
Cuisine in Louisiana is still cooked the way it has been for years, slow and seasoned. It’s made with love and served in huge portions. Invite people over and enjoy one of these recipes. Louisiana food is an experience that allows people to stop from their busy day, sit down with family, and enjoy food that is rich with flavor and soul.