To know more about Cajun seasoning first one needs to know about the roots of Cajun cooking.
True Cajun Cuisine is Native to South Louisiana
In discussions of food, many people use the word “Cajun” as short-hand for anything spicy or highly flavored. True “Cajun cuisine” though is a unique style of cooking native to South Louisiana, developed by French-speaking Acadians who moved into the area during the 18th century. These people adapted their cooking techniques to suit the natural environment of their new home, taking advantage of the plentiful flora and fauna of the area. They incorporated elements of other cultures they encountered, from French and Spanish to West African and Caribbean peoples.
Is Cajun cooking different from Creole cooking?
Cajun cuisine is similar to but not the same as “Creole” cuisine. The two cultures are close cousins but Cajun food is generally more rustic, the product of swamps, bayous and prairies and where local grains and game are augmented by the creative use of various herbs and seasonings. Creole food is more associated with the New Orleans area, embracing a wider variety of cultural influences due to its importance as a major port city. But when it comes to both Cajun and Creole dishes, heat and spiciness are just one element, complementing other aromatics, seasonings and flavors.
When it comes to Cajun cooking, innovation begins at home. Unlike the more “citified” Creole dishes served up by trained chefs in New Orleans restaurants, the genius of Cajun food lies in its more diverse roots. Each family passes down its own unique recipes, techniques and Cajun seasonings from one generation to the next. As well-known Cajun chef John Folse has said: “We went to culinary school all our lives, taught by our grandmothers and grandfathers.” And while you’ll find cayenne pepper in most Cajun meals, you’ll also find something called the “holy trinity.” With roots in the traditional French mirepoix, the Cajun trinity is a blend of onion, celery and bell pepper used as a flavor base for many dishes. From there, you’ll encounter salt and black pepper, garlic, paprika, thyme, filé (aka ground sassafras leaves), parsley and green onions, just to name the most common ingredients.
What goes into making Cajun seasoning?
Whereas other cuisines are known for their variety of ingredients and proteins, Cajun cooking is famous for using seasoning to bring out a variety of flavors. Cajun seasoning is made from a blend of spices unique to South Louisiana cuisine, most importantly salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic. Some blends will also include paprika, onion, oregano or other herbs. It can be added during the cooking process to add flavor to dishes like red beans or jambalaya, or it can be used like salt and pepper to upgrade a cooked protein or vegetable. There’s no wrong way to use Cajun seasoning!
You don’t even need to make a “Cajun” dish to enjoy the extra flavor of Cajun seasoning. You can add it to your popcorn, or mix it in with a store-bought dip. Apply it to a piece of chicken as a spice rub before tossing it on the grill. And don’t forget about the Bloody Mary — use cajun seasoning in the drink mix or as a tasty rim for the glass!