On the Lighter Side: The story of Cajun food

Joe Guilbeau

GUMBO: It’s the one word synonymous with good Cajun food.

It is the mainstay of Cajun cuisine. It’s a thick, stew-like dish that can have any of vast array of ingredients.

Joe Guilbeau

Those ingredients include vegetables (okra, tomatoes and onions, for example) and one or two or several meats or shellfish such as chicken, sausage, ham, shrimp, oysters or crabs.

The one thing all good gumbos start with is a dark roux, which adds an unmistakably rich flavor. Okra serves to thicken the mixture, as does file’ powder, which must be stirred after the pot is off the fire.

The name “gumbo” is a derivation of the African word for “okra.”

The word “gumbo” also refers to the diverse people who live in Cajun country – Cajuns, Creoles, Italians, Spanish, German, Native Indians, Asians and others.

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ANDOUILLE: A spicy, thoroughly smoked sausage usually made from pork. Andouille, French in origin, is a specialty in Cajun cooking.

It’s traditionally used in specialties like gumbo and jambalaya, a spicy addition to any dish that would use smoked sausage. Andouille is especially good when served as an hors doeuvre.

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AMANDINE: The term meaning “garnished with almonds.” A famous haute cuisine New Orleans restaurant dish is called “trout almondine.” This recipe is said to have originated in Cajun country when it was known sardines and peanuts.

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NAVY BEANS: From its early years, U.S. Navy ships had sparse supply of meat on long sea journeys, so white beans – which were plentiful – became a common substitute for meat. So, the namesake stuck, and today Navy beans are on the shelves of every supermarket.

The Navy bean is sometimes used in canned pork and beans and is often used in the preparation of Boston baked beans although New Englanders prefer using the smaller pea beans.

During my U.S. Navy stint more than 70 years ago, the Navy bean served as a staple, often twice a day. I still like the Navy bean the white gravy.

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CAFÉ AU LAIT: French for “coffee with milk,” it usually consists of equal portions of scalded milk and coffee. Made famous by Café Du Monde in New Orleans, it can also be enjoyed in Baton Rouge.

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COUCH-COUCH: A thick cornmeal breakfast – sometimes called “the original Cajun cereal" – was a longstanding tradition to scatter finely ground cornmeal on Cajun dance floors to make them slippery.

Many years ago, when ice hockey came to Lafayette, it was an unusual and highly historic event for the southern city of Lafayette.

It was then that the spreading of cornmeal on a Cajun dance floor became known as “Cajun hockey.” 

Cajun hockey survived and ice hockey did not.

There are two things you can’t fake – true love and homegrown tomatoes.