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Mar 17, 2010 09:58 AM

Difference Between Cajun and Creole Cooking


I am COOYON a Cajun Cook and Cajun Storyteller. This is my first Chowhound post. Ya'll be gentle. By the way, COOYON is Cajun French For Village Idiot and Mentally Handicapped for those that do not know. I was head of a social group called The COOYON's and got to be head COOYON and it stuck.

Since I am a a real Cajun with the thick accent, I get approched by numerous folks and we talk about many different subjects on Cajun.

The big thing I have found, is the misconception of Cajun food is Burnt (Blackened) and HOT (Pepper hot). I have also found that most folks do not know the difference between Cajun and Creole food. They also do not understand the "New Orleans Style" of cooking, compared to Cajun and Creole.

What I would like to do is have a discussion about the difference of Cajun, Creole and the New Orleans Style.

Anybody up for that?

In one story I tell, I try to simplify the difference by telling folks "If a Cajun and a Creole found two dollars, the Cajun could feed a small army while the Creole could hardly feed a small child". I do this in fun to get people in a thought process, then I start to explain the difference of them, plus the difference in New Orleans style.

Lets see if we really know..

Thanks and this should be an interesting conversation.

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  1. Hi Cooyon, welcome to CH

    I have no idea what the differences are so would be very interested to hear what you have to say. And what is the influence of Mexican/Meso-American food culture on Cajun?

    1 Reply
    1. re: andrewtree

      Hi andrewtree,

      From what I understand, the Creole influence is basically "Spanish". Thus, the rice dishes such as Jambalaya and the "Red Gravy, Sauce Picant or Courtboullion types of foods.

      One of the big distinguishing factors is the Jambalaya. Original Cajun Jambalaya is "Brown", but based on the cooking technique of the Spanish, but uniquely Cajun. For most of my life, I only knew of "Brown Jambalaya" and not the Red Jambalaya, until later in life.

      Today, there is a huge influence from many styles of cooking, on how food is prepared, especially here in New Orleans. Around Lafayette, Lake Charles, Breaux Bridge, the cooking techniques and style is almost all exclusively Cajun and rarely mixed with other styles.

      I can say this in joking... A Cajun is one of the only folks in the world that can accidently burn a fish and sell it as a high end dish for more money. LOL..

    2. Hey, COOYON!

      This topic was briefly discussed about this a year ago, but the discussion got buried in the archives. Would love to hear what a real Cajun has to say. Here's the link to the old discussion:

      Cajuns are the most fascinating culture in the US, in my opinion. Was your city, town, or area affected by Katrina? I know some of the shrimping communities got hit hard.

      Nice story about Cajuns/Creoles/two dollars!

      1 Reply
      1. re: BrooksNYC

        Hi BrooksNYC,

        Gotta tell Ya, when I travel and people hear me talk, the 1st question I get is "Where You From?".. My standard answer is "New York City" and they give me the "Deer in the Headlight" look. I expand and tell them South Bronx, really south.... Some say I need sub-titles when I speak to folks. I have fun with that.

        One of our Gov's actually got "Minority Status" for Cajuns. I tell a story about when we originally applied for that status, in which, the Federal Government came back and told us "We did not have enough people to qualify". LOL..

        I am actually from the Iberia Parish Area, on the "Across da Bayou" of the historic Bayou Teche, near the St. Mary Parish Line. We lived outside the "Village" limits and near a little community called "Crop-poe-town (the way it is pronounced), which means "Frog Town". There is an Indian Reservation called the Chitimacha Indians, and as the stories were told to me, named the Bayou after a Cottonmouth Water Moccasin snake. It reminded them of the way the snake moves really winding and for it's bad attitude. Some say the Chocktaw named the bayou, but I would tend to not believe that as compared to the original tribes of indians from the area.

        My little town was spared by both of the Hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. Katrina hit to the east and we were on the "Best Side" and Rita hit near the mouth of the Sabine River around south of Lake Charles. We were in the middle, and only got high water in the immediate area.

        Thanks for asking.

      2. Looking forward to a fascinating discussion of this. Yes, most people don't have much understanding of what the two are.

        I like to think of the difference as being somewhat analogous to the difference between haut French cuisine as found in Paris and in high end restaurants, vs. French Provincial which is the more the cooking of common people all over France.

        The next paragraphs are extremely cursory.

        Creole refers to a mixture of races and cultural traditions. In the context of Louisiana, it refers primarily to New Orleans, a port city that has been under many flags and has seen influxes of many different groups--Spanish, French, African, American, Latin, etc. NO over its history developed a culture and a cuisine that had roots in all of those. At the higher culinary levels, a very refined cuisine developed, especially in the finer restaurants, with lots of complex preparations, sauces, and so on. Something like Oysters Rockefeller, invented at Antoine's restaurant, is purely Creole/New Orleans and has basically nothing to do with Cajun.

        Cajun is a bastardization of the word Acadian. The Acadians were a group of French settlers in the Canadian Maritime provinces who were exiled in the mid-18th century by the British, in what was essentially ethnic cleansing. Some of them migrated to Louisiana (then French) and took up residence out in the bayous. They developed their culture and their cuisine, based on local ingredients, and added spice (peppers were also local).

        Historically, the cuisines of the two had little to do with each other. Over time of course there has been blending, and both are working with somewhat the same ingredients, but they are different traditions and led to different results. But folks outside of Louisiana never quite came to an understanding of that, and call everything Cajun. Add to that entirely new developments, such as "blackening" which was recently invented by Paul Prudhomme and isn't clearly linked to either, and everything becomes even more confusing.

        I'll stop there, but hope others will add much detail.

        11 Replies
        1. re: johnb


          I like the reply and I would agree this is a short version of the difference and influence of cooking.

          I will say, can you imagine when the Cajuns were basically forced down here and for all intent and purpose, left to fend for themselves in the wilds and swamps of Louisiana. There was no Walmart then.. LOL.. They had to find out what was good to eat, figure out how to cook it and make it, at the very least, somewhat tasty to be able to eat it.

          I often wonder what the 1st Cajun were thinking when he decided to try to eat Crawfish and Alligator. I can almost hear the conversation between Cajuns ----- "Mais, Wats Dat?" -- "I dunno, but I'm hungry, lets catch dat and cook it" --- With a family of many (typical for Cajun families to have 5-10 kids), even if they caught it, they had to strech it to feed as many people as they could, thus the social behavior of Cajuns.. "HEY Ya'll, We got us one of dem big lizard looking animules and everybody ivited for supper". Of course, it was a gathering of friends and neighbors and each tried to bring a "Dish" to the gathering for all to have.

          In my lifetime, my mother's kitchen door was always open to anyone who was hungry and we always had friends, neighbors, and gatherings on a regular basis, just to eat. It always turned into a type of party with, beer, music, storytelling, lots of laughing and just great times that cannot be ever forgotten.

          As the discussion gets better, I will chime in with my versions of the history, influence and "Rational" of why the different types of food here developed.

          1. re: COOYON

            Old thread, but I'm trying to understand the origins of red beans.

            It's generally true that Creole is more urban/refined, based on a blend of European/African/indigenous traditions, yes? And that Cajun is more rural and more strictly Acadian-American?

            But red beans are an exception to that rule of refinement, probably a slave contribution to the cuisine?

            1. re: tatamagouche

              The story goes that red beans and rice was made on washday. Since there was little time to cook, a pot of beans was put on the stove and "forgotten" during the day, to be served after the wash chores were done. Wives' tale? who knows.

              I shortcut the red beans by using canned (Camellia brand) with some smoked pork hock, onions, bay leaf. Simmer awhile, pull the meat off the hocks and stir back in. Serve over rice.

              1. re: tatamagouche

                Interesting thread to revive. Many families (mine included) in Louisiana have both Cajun-French and French-French ancestry + more. Recipes get transferred from Cajun to Creole and back. But there are definite overlaps that go all the way back to France. Bean dishes, Louisiana white beans and red beans, are probably descended from Cassoulet--but of course bean dishes are cooked around the globe, so you can't just attribute them to France. Other French examples: Black andouille in France translated into both Cajun andouille and red (blood) boudin. "Praline" in France - not possible in Louisiana, but "praline" candies reminiscent of the French original made with local pecans, oh yeah. And the ultimate melting-pot food is gumbo, I think. File powder from the Native Americans as a thickener, or okra from Africans as thickener, or roux as a thickener (no butter--no problem, use oil). Yams were yams because African cooks called them that - long before the Louisiana sweet potato industry "renamed" them yams. The Creoles I knew in New Orleans considered themselves African American, and they were the great cooks that introduced the "English" in the Garden District of New Orleans to Louisiana Creole food. Somebody can correct me on that if I'm wrong, but my Creole friends talked of it. Chefs in NO quickly adapted the Creole recipes to fine dining because they had to in order to get customers.

                I cannot omit other cultures from the "gumbo" effect. Go to New Orleans and everyone will tell you their favorite place for Muffaletta - an Italian specialty. Look for it, and you'll find more Italian influence in the local cuisine. There was a large influx of Irish immigrants, and if you see Irish stew on a menu in NO, get it. It'll be stew on another level. Can we attribute jambalaya to Spanish paella roots? Maybe - walk around the "French" quarter and you'll see the old Spanish street names in walls and sidewalks. My mother's folk included some Germans, and her "Cajun" potato salad was without peer. She combined her grandmother's German potato salad with her aunt's Cajun recipes. You get it. Creole and Cajun are separate....but not. I'll shut up - except for one story, in case Cooyon is still around. I have Cajun and "Red Neck" ancestry, and when people ask me the difference, this is what I tell them, "If a stranger goes into a red neck town, the natives may look at him in squinty-eyed distrust. If a stranger goes into a Cajun town, the natives he meets will ask him everything about himself, and whether he's had dinner. If he hasn't they'll take him home for mama's cooking." That may not be strictly true (any more) but it was when I grew up.

                1. re: sancan

                  I love these folktale jokes about the differences....thanks!

                  What is Irish stew exactly?

                  1. re: tatamagouche

                    I'm sure there are lots of Irish stews. The one I know from home begins with a dark brown roux. Of course, it is a braise and with the roux, the result is a silky, dark, rich gravy. While it has the traditional potatoes, carrots, and maybe peas, it is served over rice - like almost everything. The first time I had something called Irish stew elsewhere, I thought it seemed to be a soup.

                  2. re: sancan

                    How about that "cajun" potato salad recipe? I'm always looking for new ways to make potato salad

                    1. re: ChrisKC

                      My mother never had a recipe for anything. I remember holding a measuring cup under her as she dumped fistfuls of ingredients into pots. Never did that with the potato salad. The things that make it hers are crumbled crispy bacon (save a tablespoon or so to sprinkle on top), a few tablespoons of the bacon grease and some grainy Mustard such as Zatarains added to the mayo dressing, and two or three finely chopped scallion (or two or three handfuls of frozen, chopped green onion). I sometimes use about half sour cream and half mayo in the dressing, and I sprinkle the finished potato salad with paprika or Tony Chacheries seasoning. BTW, there was no such thing as a creole or cajun seasoning -- that I knew of -- back then. So some people's Cajun potato salad had onion powder and garlic powder, along with cayenne and white pepper added. Mama always served her potato salad warm. I refrigerate it if leftover, but I really don't remember there being many leftovers. We had a big family. I now make "Cajun Notato Salad" with cooked cauliflower, and it's almost as good as the real deal, and I usually don't have any of it leftover either.

                        1. re: tatamagouche

                          Hubby loves the stuff, and always goes for seconds. Oops, I forgot to say black pepper, too. What was I thinking?

                        2. re: sancan

                          Mmm, sounds good, maybe I'll try that for my next potato salad. Thanks