Lousiana: Real Cajun Cuisine

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Story and Photos by Paul Ross 

Real Cajun Cuisine



  • Sauce Acadie

  • Classic But Spiced-Up Jambalaya

  • Red Beans and Rice with Sausage

  • Fiery Seafood Gumbo



An authentic Louisiana Cajun woman, transplanted to New Mexico, opened up a roadside eatery. One of her first customers was an old Hispanic farmer who politely inquired, “Señorita, que es Ca-hoon?” That would be the Spanish pronunciation of “Cajun.”

Through the efforts of Master Chefs and showmen like Paul Prudhomme, the rest of the world now knows what Cajun is, but what they know is more nouvelle than authentic. What is real Cajun cuisine? The complexity of the answer lies in the history of a homeless people.

They originated in France and were transported back and forth across the ocean first to Acadia (modern-day Nova Scotia), where they were alternately governed by France and England. Ultimately, in the 1700s, they were sent into forced exile and many ended up in Louisiana. The story and foods of Cajun (a corruption of the word Acadian) folk are a triumph of adaptability over adversity and poverty. They took what they had, combined it with knowledge gleaned from indigenous Native Americans and slaves from Africa, added the harvest of seas and swamps and voila—gumbo. (Actually, that is a Bantu African word for okra, one of the key vegetable ingredients in the thick soup.)

Rosedown, a classic
Louisiana plantation.


Rosedown Plantation

Contrary to popular misconception, New Orleans is not “Cajun Country,” but that land is within easy driving distance. The heartland of the genuine experience centers around Lafayette and stretches from the eastern edge of Grand Isle in the Gulf of Mexico up north through Houma to Baton Rouge then west through Opalousas and Lake Charles. It peters-out somewhere across the border in Texas. Acadian territory takes in the entire coast of Louisiana as well as lands that range from fertile farms to mysterious bayous laden with wild game, unexpected beauty, and genuine danger.

Real Cajun cooking is generally not overly spicy (diners usually add a Louisiana hot sauce after being served), not difficult to prepare, and begs group activity–if not an outright party. More “fun” than “fine” dining, from preparation to eating, it’s designed to have everyone get their hands in–especially when it comes tackling a tray of crabs or a platter of crawfish. When asked if it is “healthy,” one Cajun septuagenarian replied, “I’ve been eating it all my life. I’ve had five by-pass surgeries and wouldn’t’ve survived if it wasn’t.” Hmmm¼ the logic is a little questionable but the passion is there.

A food trip through Cajunland is a true voyage of discovery; you are without Zagat’s guides and, often, the best places are the little, local, blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em spots along the road. Like B&C Seafood Market & Cajun Deli on the Great River Road in Vacherie. They are on a section of the Mississippi which alternates between refineries, chemical plants, and plantation museums–and they are close to two of the finest examples of the latter: Laura (a unique Creole plantation) and Oak Alley (a real “Gone With The Wind” experience that even offers freshly-made Mint Juleps).

Gator Chef

At the B&C Seafood Market
and Cajun Deli, you never know
who will be cooking up your dishes.


B&C processes and distributes shrimp, turtle, crab, frog legs, and a variety of salt and freshwater fish from nearby Lake Des Allemands, but their specialty is catfish. Customers enter the dine-in section of B&C by walking across the gaping maw of a 30-foot gator painted on the floor of a room surrounded by taxidermic examples of aquatic fauna. (If you want a souvenir, they’ll be more than happy to sell you a preserved alligator head.) Cajun music fills the space and prepares you for an extensive menu of owners Thomas and Geneva Breaux’s family recipes. Appetizers (most in a highly-affordable $2-5 range) include Fried Alligator–Thin Sliced, Cajun Hush Puppies, and Home Made Boudin Balls (omnipresent in endless variations throughout Cajun country, the traditional version here is a seasoned rice and pork sausage served out of its casing in 6 yummy pieces). Gumbo is available in either a chicken/Andouille sausage or seafood (shrimp/crab) form ($3.95). Deep frying is the preferred mode of preparation for both the Po’boy sandwiches (catfish, Popcorn or Butterfly shrimp, oysters, and–in season–garfish or “Cypress trout”( $4.50-6.75) and the seafood platters ($7.25-19.50, grilled is $2 extra). Specialitiés de la Maison range from the down-home basic Red Beans over Rice with Sausage ($5.95, still a Monday menu staple throughout the South) to Alligator Sauce Picante ($7.50) and Turtle Sauce Picante ($8.50).

A big plastic tray of these spicy
babies arrives at the B&C Seafood
Market and Cajun Deli. They’ll even
instruct you on how to open them up.


Boiled Crab

I tried the Crawfish Fricasse ($6.95) and learned a “mudbug” fact. Plagued by a particularly vicious root weevil in recent years, the rice and crawfish growers –flooded fields allow for the ranching/farming of both—used an herbicide which inadvertently killed-off half of their crop. Now, many Louisianans inquire first if the “mudbugs” are imported from China and, if so, they refuse to order them. At B&C, the crawfish are more expensive but still home-grown.) The crawfish in the fricassee were big, tender, firm and utterly delicious in a slow-simmered sauce of rich, brown roux (oil, flour, and water). Like everything else we sampled at B&C, it tasted lovingly home-made. There was nothing fancy, precious, or pricey about the whole experience. They also make a line of five of their own Cajun Breaux bottled sauces ranging from sweet/hot Vidalia Onion & Peach to the spicier Mean Jean’s 3-Pepper (bell, jalapeño and habanero) to a combination in the middle called Good And Evil (jalapeño in an orange juice base) which they ship all over the world.

In addition to the plantations in the area, just down the road is a unique African-American Museum which showcases the untold stories of slaves that are only alluded to in neighboring tourist attractions. Founder Kathe Hambrick left the South, vowing never to return but, when circumstances forced her to, she made it her mission to discover and present a full picture of slavery and the subsequent progress of a people. Surprising and inspiring, the African-American Museum is located in the Tezcuco Plantation, which is also a B&B with Creole-style cabins.

The lovely cypress trees
of the Atchafalaya Basin.


Atchafalaya Basin Cypress Trees

Getting a little lost–always an adventurous pleasure in Cajun country, because of the folk you invariably meet— we wandered in to a rousing Sunday gospel service at the Buena Vista Baptist Church where, along with helpful directions, Velma Rhodes insisted on feeding us fried chicken and jambalaya, even though we said that we were on our way to one of the premier restaurants in the region.

When we got to The Grapevine Market & Café, owners Dickie and Cynthia Breaux (no relation to the B&C couple; it’s one of the most common names in the area) said that, back at the church, we had sampled “The DNA of southern cooking.”

The latest venture by a couple whose Café Des Amis is legendary, the Grapevine is in an historic building stuffed with incredible pieces by local artists and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are a few New Orleans-type offerings on the menu (particularly breakfast items such as Beignets –a doughnut usually served with chicory coffee–and “Bananas Foster Waffles”) but the restaurant’s roots are strongly Cajun. They had the best turtle soup I’ve ever eaten ($4.95 a cup, $9.50 a bowl). It was alive with complex, dark flavors highlighted with a side of sherry wine that you could add to taste. Each spoonful was like the first, bursting with revelatory delights. And their Hen & Andouille Gumbo ($5.25 per cup) was great, too.

A dish that the Grapevine is famous for is Barbecue Shrimp Pont Breaux Style ($9.95)–and the appellation stems from the neighboring town, Breaux Bridge, not the ubiquitous family sur-name). A heaping plate of really large shrimp comes swimming in a mopping sauce that has customers calling for additional baskets of fresh French bread. Plastic bibs are obligatory as the shrimp are served with the heads on and tearing into the succulent meat is a ecstatic but messy process. Another signature specialty is the Oven-Roasted Duckling Glazed with Cane Syrup and Pepper Jelly ($17.95) which is crisp and juicy without being fatty and offers a medley of mouth-watering flavors. But, by all means, save room for desserts, especially the White Chocolate Bread Pudding ($3.95 for a portion that will serve several); it’s all smiles and appreciative “Mmmms.” Even amid the fine cooking, there was no snooty restaurant attitude, never anything but a feeling of being welcomed among friends.

Grapevine BBQ Shrimp

Grapevine BBQ Shrimp:
Grab, rip, eat, and slurp. It’s not
neat but it’s fun…and tres delicious.



If you can even move after all that fine food, there’s a really wonderful swamp tour nearby at Alligator Bayou run by environmentalists who put their money where their mouths were and bought a wilderness area to preserve it. The tour often concludes with a free Cajun dance lesson; they’ll use any excuse to party. (Phone ahead for reservations at 225-642-8297.)

Another swamp tour (like Cajun food, each one is a different sort of treat filled with unexpected enchantments) is “The Atchafalaya Experience” which is usually combined with an overnight stay at the comfortably-priced and charming Bois des Chénes B&B in Lafayette. Hosts Coerte and Marjorie Voorhies have restored the 1820 Charles Mouton Plantation home, outfitting it with myriad antiques. One bite of pain perdue (Cajun French Toast) and you’ll instantly know why Bois des Chénes has been written up in more than 20 national magazines and newspapers as well as having been designated a top choice in both National Geographic Traveler and Frommer’s Guides.

An avid fisherman, hunter and life-long conservationist, Coerte is a boisterous ringer for “Papa” Hemingway and knows the intricate ins and outs of the Atchafalya basin. His tour has been featured in even more magazine and television shows than his B&B (Discovery Channel, A&E, and the BBC ..just to name a few).

With breakfast and local touring accounted for, it’s time to think about dinner. (Cajuns pride themselves on always planning ahead in this respect. One meal is merely a prelude to the next.)

Prejean’s is world-famous for its Cajun food, music, and atmosphere, attracting both locals and tourists out for fun and good eating. Everything about the place is huge: the parking lot, the crowds, the noise, the menu selections, and the portions. Appetizers range from a crawfish enchilada ($6.95) to a pine nut-crusted, shiitake and wine sauced Whistling Dixie Venison ($8.95) to Tout Que’que Chose (everything–frog legs, mushrooms, popcorn shrimp, fried cheese, boudin balls, alligator, and crawfish ($13.95 for two). Prejean’s offers half-a-dozen different soups, gumbos and bisques, and several pages of fish, meats, wild game, and something very unusual in local eateries, health-conscious items “on the lighter side.” But they have nothing that is “blackened” and openly laugh at the concept that think was a mistake–albeit successfully marketed.

If you have limited time in Cajun country and can’t make it out to the more off-the-beaten path food joints and dance halls, Prejean’s is an accessible blend of both, bound to give you a sampling of local color.

Similar, but different again, is Randol’s, Lafayette’s other massive restaurant and dance hall. The night we visited, Cajun fans had come all the way from England to dine and dance there! The establishment was just in the process of creating a Cajun cooking school under the aegis of “Mama” Redell who grew up in the backwoods cooking “all her life” for a large family. She refers to her classes as “a show” and, from what I saw, Emeril better watch his back.

Although Cajun territory is not large, and much can be seen in 3 to 5 days, all the attractions and restaurants can take months to cover and there are overlaps between the two (such as tours of the Konriko and Crystal Rice Plants or the Tabasco Factory and botanical gardens on Avery Island). Even the re-creations of old-time Cajun life (Vermillionville, the Acadian Village, and the Acadian Cultural Center) have food either nearby or actually on premises. Again the ingredients and cooking are simple and folksy.

Wrapping-up this comestible mini tour is Shucks! the oyster-lovers heaven and one more big-time food and dance palace, Mulate’s.

Shucks! makes no bones about its specialty, which it serves in a dozen different ways. They have an exhibition shucking room whose current ‘star’ is a 78-year old Vietnamese man who’d never seen an oyster before emigrating to Louisiana a decade ago. Shucks! is big and barn-like but friendly and inexpensive. Here you can fill up on seafood that would be prohibitively-priced in any major city. It’s both quantity and quality.

Mulate’s is on tourist maps but feels like “locals only” in that everybody is a Cajun in there. I sat down to an overloaded platter of frog legs between a family birthday bash and six tables jammed with dancing bikers who had ridden Harleys from Texas just for the evening. The cypress wood dance floor has seen the likes of celebrities Robert Duvall, Paul Simon, Meg Ryan, Ron Howard, and members of the Royal London Ballet. You can’t separate the food from the ambience at Mulate’s, which is now franchised in Baton Rouge and New Orleans where, even there, the ambience still manages to feel “down home.” At Mulate’s the rule is definitely laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll!

Cajun Country Sunset

Sunset over the
Swamps of Cajun Country.


Oh, and there’s a brand new luxury B&B in historic Abbeville called The Caldwell that is so amazing it’s almost worth the trip by itself! Chockablock with antiques, the early 1900s mansion has been lovingly restored, carefully appointed, and provides indulgent amenities (300-count bed linens, imported soaps and shampoos, evening wine and cheese soirees, and a gourmet chef to prepare the meals). And all of our whims were catered-to in the midst of the owners’ wedding–now, that’s Southern hospitality!

If you need further incentives to go, there are Cajun festivals held year ‘round where there’s even more music, food, and fun. The largest is the Festival Acadien held in September but each parish has something that celebrates culture or, more often than not, something edible. (In Abbeville, for instance, they annually fabricate a Guinness Record-holding 5,000 egg omelet and the St. Martinville Pepper Festival.)

While gourmet, nouvelle Cajun food is tasty, the real stuff is alive, well, and delicious. See and eat it in its native home environment, you’ll have a helluva good time every dance step along the way.


Sauce Acadie

This recipe, a classic Cajun sauce, can be served over grilled Cornish game hens or chicken. It is also great with fried seafood.

  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped

  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 1 tablespoon Lea & Perrin Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons Louisiana-style hot Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon Seasoning Salt

  • White roux

Combine all of the ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer for ten minutes to combine the flavors. Thicken the sauce with the roux.

Yield: About 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Note: White roux is made of equal parts of flour and butter or vegetable oil. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add flour all at once and cook, stirring constantly for approximately 5 to 8 minutes, taking care it does not brown.

Classic But Spiced-Up Jambalaya

Don’t ask me why, but it is essential to observe the sauteing and boiling times here. This is one of the favorite dishes in Cajun Country. We have spiced this recipe up a bit from its usual incarnation.

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 pound pork or chicken, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

  • 2 large onions, finely chopped

  • 1/4 pound tasso sausage, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

  • 5 to 8 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 bay leaves, crushed

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 pound smoked garlic sausage, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

  • 3 cups beef or chicken broth

  • 1 1/2 cups rice

  • 6 to 8 small hot red chiles, such as piquins, crushed

  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne

  • 1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and add the pork (or chicken) and onions. Saute until the onions are transparent and the meat is cooked.

Add the tasso, garlic, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, and cloves. Saute for 5 minutes. Add the sausage and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the broth and bring the mixture to a boil and boil slowly for 10 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring back to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, uncovered, and stirring from time to time to mix everything well.

When the rice absorbs all the liquid and is soft, the jambalaya is ready to serve. If the rice is cooked and the dish is still a bit liquid, raise the heat until the excess moisture evaporates. Or, if the rice isn’t cooked and the dish is dry, add more broth and simmer until it is done.

Yield: 6 or more servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Red Beans and Rice with Sausage

Here is your basic Cajun side dish, elevated to entree status with the addition of the sausage. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 1 pound dried red beans, not kidney beans, sorted and rinsed

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (if using a fatty sausage, render some of the fat from the meat)

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1 stalk celery, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 pound tasso, andouille, or other sausage, such as garlic sausage, cut diagonally into 3/4-inch slices

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cayenne

  • 8 to 10 cups water

  • 4 to 5 cups cooked white rice

  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Cover the beans with water and let stand overnight.

Heat the oil in a large pot. Saute the onion, garlic, and celery in the oil until soft. Add the beans, parsley, bay leaf, tasso, cayenne, and water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the beans are soft, about 1 to 2 hours.

As it cooks, the beans may start to get creamy. If the beans get soft and the broth is still thin, take a few beans, put them in a sieve, and mash through with a wooden spoon.

Serve over the rice and garnished with plenty of chopped parsley.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Heat Scale: Mild to Medium

Fiery Seafood Gumbo

A gumbo is a Cajun soup that has a roux as a base and uses file (sassafras leaves) and/or okra as a thickening agent. This dish probably has African origins, as the Bantu word for okra is gumbo! Often served as a main dish, this “soup” may contain chicken, meat, or ham in addition to vegetables, tomatoes, and spices. Serve with potato salad, sourdough bread and blackbottom pie for dessert. Note: Gumbo can be prepared ahead of time. Prepare the gumbo up to the point to where the fish is added. Refrigerate until ready to heat and serve.

  • 1 pound raw shrimp

  • 1 quart chicken stock

  • 1/2 cup bacon drippings or vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup flour

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 2 stalks celery, chopped

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/2 pound okra, cut crosswise into rounds

  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon crushed dried red chile, seeds included

  • 2 teaspoons ground Cayenne

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 medium tomato, peeled and chopped

  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground oregano

  • 1/2 pound fish fillets, cut into 3/4-inch chunks

  • 1/2 pound lump crabmeat

  • 3 cups cooked rice

  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Poach the shrimp in the chicken stock until they turn pink, about 4 minutes. Remove the shrimp, save the broth, and shell and devein the shrimp. Keep the shrimp cool until ready to add back into the gumbo.

Melt the bacon drippings and stir in the flour. Heat the roux, stirring constantly, until it is a very dark brown color, being careful that it does not burn. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and continue to heat for a couple of minutes to soften the vegetables. Remove from the heat so that the roux does not continue to brown.

Heat the okra and vinegar in the remaining vegetable oil, for 20 minutes or until the okra is no longer stringy, stirring occasionally.

Reheat the broth to boiling and slowly stir the roux mixture into the liquid. Add the chile, cayenne, okra, tomato, bay leaves, thyme, and oregano. Then reduce the heat and simmer for a couple of hours until thick.

Add the fish and crabmeat and heat for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the shrimp. Allow to sit for a couple of minutes before serving.

To Serve: Place some of the cooked rice in the bottom of a bowl, pour the gumbo over the top, and garnish with the parsley.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Heat Scale: Medium


B&C Cajun Restaurant & Seafood Market

2155 Highway 19 (Great River Road)

160 Rue St. Martin –mailing address

Vacherie, LA. 70090

Ph & fax (225) 265-9960

Open M-F 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sat. 9-7 Sun. 9-6


The Grapevine Market & Café

211 Railroad Avenue

Donaldsonville, LA 70346

(225) 473-8463 [fax (225) 473.8461]


Bois des Chénes and The Atchafalaya Experience

338 N. Sterling Street

Lafayette, LA 70501

Phone and fax (337) 233-7816



3480 I-49 North

Lafayette, LA 70507

(337) 896-3247


Open Sun-Th 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m., F-Sat 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m.

Randol’s Restaurant & Cajun Dance Hall

2320 Kaliste Saloom Road

Lafayette, LA 70508

(800) YO-CAJUN



701 W. Port Street

Abbeville, LA 70510

(318) 898-3311


325 Mills Avenue

Breaux Bridge, LA 70517

(800) 422-2586


Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. 7 days a week

Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission

(800) 346-1958

P.O.B. 52066

Lafayette, LA 70505www.lafayettetravel.com

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