Saturday, 11 March 2017

Learning about NOLA cooking: Cajun chicken gumbo

My son had enthused about Cajun cooking previously, but I have never had Cajun or Creole food before this month. When in our favourite herb and spice store Grape Tree in Kendal we found a tub of Cajun seasoning we took it as a hint that we should give it a try. And wow are we glad we did! By the way Grape Tree also sells online for anyone not living within easy reach of one of their shops.

I had always assumed that Cajun and Creole meant the same thing: food from the New Orleans (Louisiana) area. Not so, apparently, as explained on the New Orleans Online website where they say, "One of the simplest differences between the two cuisines is that Creole food typically uses tomatoes while traditional Cajun food does not."  It goes on to say, "Cajun food is robust, country-style food, found along the bayous of Louisiana, a combination of French and Southern cuisines" whilst "Creole food is “city food,” created in New Orleans with European, African and Native American roots."

Recipe from bbcgoodfood.com, April 2012
Irrespective of the differences it all sounded wonderfully tasty, so we decided to have a try and went hunting for an easy to follow recipe. Our first dish was Sarah Cook's Cajun chicken gumbo found on the BBC goodfood website, which stated preparation time 20 minutes, cooking time 45 minutes, which seemed to be reasonable and pretty accurate, and the result was absolutely delicious!

As we didn't have ham we substituted chunks of cooking bacon (the sort you use for making quiche etc) and we added in extras that we like to the recipe, notably sliced button mushrooms which worked really well in the rich spicy Cajun sauce. The important things to include are the so-called "Holy Trinity" of onion, celery and bell pepper, along with the Cajun seasoning. We found that steeping the bay leaves in the stock worked really well to release the flavours, remember to remove the leaves from the stock before adding stock to the roux.

The other thing we learned was that the flavour improves by cooking longer, or even by standing overnight. The recipe said it could be made in around an hour, but other Cajun recipe sources say that gumbo should be cooked for at least three hours, so we are going to try it in the slow cooker next time we do Cajun chicken gumbo!

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