What Goes in the Pot

INTRODUCTION

What goes in the pot?

Like all great cuisines, the food of New Orleans is borne of mixing cultures, geography and necessity. France is the most recognizable parent culture, but West Africa, Native American tribes, Spain, Germany, Vietnam and other contenders have all left their mark. The French, for example, used bread as a staple starch, but bread was difficult to make in swampy Louisiana. Rice, on the other hand, was grown by Native Americans in abundance, and was a common ingredient in Spanish cuisine. So rice replaced bread as a starch, a substitution motivated by ethnic dialogue and the imperative faced poor people across the world: how do we turn the local flora and fauna into something tasty? Luckily, Louisiana has lots of local flora and fauna. The swamp yields fish and shellfish, boar and fowl, and rice, sassafras and okra.

We have to give the French (and later, Spanish) credit for one major contribution to Louisiana food culture, and that is an appreciation of food, the quality of being a bon vivant. While the rest of America saw food as fuel, rather than an experience to be savored, New Orleans was already taking long lunches. Yes, it made us a little less efficient, but also a lot more fun. as slow food/localvore movements become popular in the rest of the USA, New Orleanians shake their heads with a smirk – people here have been obsessing over where their boudin, crawfish and oysters come from long before such questions became popular in New York or San Francisco.

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The Holy Trinity

Onions, bell peppers and celery: the base ingredients of both Cajun and Creole cuisine. Which are different things.

Louisiana Creole cuisine

is a style of cooking originating in Louisiana which blends French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Native American, and African influences as well as general Southern cuisine. It is similar to Cajun cuisine in ingredients (such as the holy trinity), but the important distinction is that Cajun cuisine arose from the more rustic, provincial French cooking adapted by the Acadians to Louisiana ingredients, whereas the cooking of the Louisiana Creoles tended more toward classical European styles adapted to local foodstuffs. Broadly speaking, the French influence in Cajun cuisine is descended from various French Provincial cuisines of the peasantry, while Creole cuisine evolved in the homes of well-to-do aristocrats, or those who imitated their lifestyle. Although the Creole cuisine is closely identified with New Orleans culture today, much of it evolved in the country plantation estates so beloved of the pre-Civil War Creoles.

Crawfish

Also known as mudbugs, the legend is that after the Acadians fled Nova Scotia, loyal lobsters swam with them to Louisiana, and along the way they lost so much weight they became crawfish. Thee little shellfish are actually native to the region and have long been a favorite treat at the Louisiana table. Usually served at boils (or in Yat, ‘berls’) after being cooked in pots with salt, pepper, cayenne, Zatarain’s, corn, potatoes and sausages, but is also served within pies, gumbo, etouffee and other presentations. You can get crawfish any time of year, but traditional crawfish season is spring. To eat, pinch the head, yak out the tail and eat the tail meat. Hard core folks suck the juices out of the head.

Crabs

Blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus – ‘beautiful, savory swimmer’) are another Louisiana favorite. They’re often boiled in a similar fashion to crawfish, or served within gumbo. There’s no surer sign of gumbo quality then the sight of half a crab sticking out of your Styrofoam container. In spring, crabs molt their shells and become soft shell crabs, which are often served fried on a paper plate or within a po’boy.

Shrimp

White and brown shrimp are both harvested in Louisiana and are an enormous component of local cuisine, appearing in gumbo, etouffe, po’boys, pies and innumerable other dishes. Louisiana provides over 50 percent of the shrimp harvest of the lower 48 states.

Oysters

Louisiana is the leading producer of oysters in the USA. Eating oysters is a bit of an art in New Orleans, and any number of local restaurants are dedicated to the sublime experience of slurping them down raw. They also come fried, broiled, smoked or roasted, and frequently appear as some sort of side, adding richness and complexity to an already decadent cuisine.

Our Local Publisher Partners

The Arts Council of New Orleans

The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

WWNO

WWNO, the NPR member station for New Orleans, serves southeast Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi by broadcasting balanced news, thought provoking analysis, classical music, jazz and other musical styles, intelligent entertainment, and unique local content. We broadcast on 89.9 FM, and KTLN 90.5 FM in the Houma-Thibodaux area as a public service of the University of New Orleans. All of WWNO’s programs, including its growing local news coverage, are available online at WWNO.org.

WWOZ

WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.

PRC

Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

NOMA

As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

Southern Food

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

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