Feb 4, 2009

Creole v. Cajun...the Way I See It

If you don’t enjoy food origins, food history, or learning about other cultures (shame on you), skip down to the recipe for Rabbit Sauce Piquante...or not. I’ll never know.

I’ve been avoiding this topic for a while. I’ll admit up front it’s confusing, convoluted, and makes my brain scream. But it’s important, so here goes.

First, some misconceptions.
My top two:
1. “Cajun and Creole foods are spicy.” False. They can be, but don’t have to be. Depends on who’s doing the cooking. Sure, we use cayenne pepper (also called red pepper) and our favorite Cajun/Creole seasoning blends. But we also use onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and green onion as seasoning too. Summation: Cajun does not automatically equal spicy.
2. “Oh, you’re going to New Orleans to eat Cajun food.” No. No, I’m not. Generally speaking, one does not go to New Orleans to eat Cajun food. Cajun country is West of New Orleans. In New Orleans, it’s Creole...and there’s a difference!

One reason why Cajun and Creole cuisines are different is because Cajuns and Creoles are different.

Cajuns. Who are they? Poo Yie! Do you have a few hours? Short version. Cajuns are descendants of French colonists who settled Nova Scotia. They were thrown out of Nova Scotia by the British in 1755. In Cajun history, this is known as Le Grand Dérangement. Men, women, and children were separated. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion as to why. The word “Cajun” is a corruption of “Acadian.” Cajuns called their area of Nova Scotia “Acadie,” meaning Arcadia or paradise. It is a sad tale, but not to worry. Many Cajuns found a second paradise in Louisiana.

Creoles. This is much more complicated. The word “Creole” simply means native. It was used to distinguish someone who was born in the New World but who was of French (or Spanish) descent. While Cajuns are the descendants of French peasants, French Creoles are the descendants of French aristocracy. The meaning of “Creole” is even more complex when one considers the meaning of the word today. Presently, people are referred to as either “Creole” (also French Creole) or “Black Creole” (also Creole of Color). The term Creole typically refers to French descent. Black Creoles are descendants of slaves. Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. Many Black Creoles are descendants of slaves who also spent time living in the Caribbean. They have African, Caribbean, and French backgrounds. Black Creoles, or Creoles of Color, have given the cuisine of New Orleans and its surrounding areas rich diversity.

I’m a little bit Cajun and a little bit Creole.

Cajun and Creole cuisines do have similarities. Both are based on adapting recipes based on ingredient availability. One example that comes to mind is the Courtbouillon found in New Orleans compared to the original French version. Cajuns and Creoles are notorious for their ability to adapt to what’s on hand.

On the surface, Cajun cooking is rural French cooking while Creole is French cooking found in the city (specifically New Orleans). The differences are much more, though, and range from commonly used ingredients to differing cross-cultural influences (the two often go together). Both cooking styles incorporate ideas from other cultures, but the cultures differ...creating variances in the food.

For me, a big difference in Cajun and Creole cooking is red v. brown. Many Creole foods rely much more heavily on tomatoes, such as thick, robust tomato sauces. (Heck, there’s even a type of tomato called “Creole Tomato.” ) Creole versions of jambalaya are usually red, having tomato sauce or paste as an ingredient. Cajun jambalayas are more often brown, lacking tomatoes. Creole gumbos tend to contain okra and tomatoes, while Cajun versions are usually tomato-free.

Ultimately, I guess, it’s like anything else. What you experience in life—the people, the places you live and visit, the environment and landscape—it all affects you in some way. This is true for a region’s cuisine. Both Cajun and Creole cooking styles are built out of assimilation...integrating ingredients and techniques learned from the cultures that Cajuns and Creoles came into contact with.

A few examples: Corn Maque Choux, a Cajun dish similar to a succotash, nods to contact with Native Americans. Andouille, and other sausages, have German and French features. Jambalaya is thought to be a cross between Spanish paella and a West African rice dish. The word “gumbo” comes from the African word for okra. While the ingredients differ, the technique for making roux is classic French.

Creoles had the luxury of living in and near the port city of New Orleans. They probably had greater access to more varied ingredients. Traditionally, French Creole cuisine utilized rich French-inspired sauces. Cajuns, on the other hand, lived off the land much more. Traditional Cajun dishes are usually rustic one pot meals that made use of what people could hunt, catch, trap, or grow.

Sauce Piquante...here’s a dish that is just all over the place. First, it can be made with rabbit, chicken, frog, or alligator. Second, it’s found on both Creole and Cajun menus (with slight differences). Third, it has many cultural influences. The use of roux is borrowed from the French. The tomato-based sauce is influenced by Spanish and possibly Italian immigrants. The fact that the basic recipe is always adapted to include whatever protein is available screams Cajun ingenuity to me. This dish is definitely a mutt.

linking with:


 This looks long, but once it’s all in the pot you don’t have to worry about it. It also freezes well. But beware...spiciness intensifies when frozen.

Rabbit (or chicken, or alligator, or frog leg) Sauce Piquante
from Ms. enPlace

If using game, marinate to tenderize and lessen the “gamey” flavor.
¼ c white wine vinegar
2 T olive oil
¼ c red wine
¼ c onion, minced
1 crushed bay leaf
1 tsp garlic, minced
¼ tsp each salt and pepper

Sauce Piquante:
¼ cup oil plus about 1 T
1 pound rabbit meat, cut in pieces
Cajun or Creole seasoning, to taste
¼ c flour, plus more for dredging
2 c chopped onion
½ c chopped bell pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
¼-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
¼-1/2 tsp black pepper (to taste)
¼ tsp dried thyme
3-3 ½ c water
1 can tomatoes w/ chiles
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
2 T red wine
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T chopped parsley
3 green onions, chopped
cooked rice

Combine marinade ingredients in a dish. Add rabbit pieces and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Heat ¼ c oil in a heavy pot. Remove rabbit from marinade. Mix about 1/8-1/4 cup flour with Cajun seasoning. Lightly dredge rabbit pieces in seasoned flour. Shake off excess flour. Add rabbit to hot oil and brown all over. Remove rabbit from pot.

Add about 1 T oil to pot. Slowly add ¼ cup flour to oil to make a roux. More oil or flour can be added to adjust the consistency. Cook roux, stirring constantly until it becomes a medium to dark brown. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook, stirring, until tender.

Add remaining ingredients except for parsley and green onion. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add rabbit back to pot and simmer over low heat for 1-1/2 hours, or until rabbit is tender. About 5-10 minutes before serving, add parsley and green onion. Serve over cooked rice.

First thing to do is get the rabbit marinating. This will take 4-6 hours. If you are making chicken sauce piquante, marinating isn't needed. The wine and vinegar in the marinade not only help tenderize the meat, they help remove strong "gamey" flavors. The rabbit is compliments of my dad.

What you'll need for the "sauce" portion of sauce piquante:

Season about 1/4 c flour with Cajun/Creole Seasoning. Lightly dredge rabbit pieces in flour and shake off excess.

Heat oil and brown rabbit all over.

Remove rabbit and set aside. Add about 1 T more oil and heat. Add about 1/4 c flour to oil and make a roux (see link in recipe above).

Once roux is dark brown, add vegetables and cook until soft.

Add everything else except for the parsley and green onions. Keeping these out til the end gives a nice fresh quality to a slow-cooked dish. Simmer for about 15 minutes. By the way, the "piquante" part of sauce piquante means that there should be spiciness. Adjust to your own taste.

Add rabbit pieces back to the pot and simmer at least an hour, or until the rabbit is tender. Yep. This is one of those slow-cooking dishes. I should mention that wild rabbit can carry food borne illnesses such as trichinosis. Be careful about cross contamination and cook the meat thoroughly. Shouldn't be problem in this recipe.

While the sauce piquante simmers, don't be afraid to add water if the sauce is too thick for you. Won't hurt a thing.
When rabbit is tender, add the green onion and parsley. Do this about 5-10 min. before you are ready to dig in. Otherwise, you'll zap the life out of 'em.

Serve over cooked white rice (of course) and garnish with additional green onion and/or parsley for a nice color contrast. Oh, and before you sit down, boo, get yourself an ice cold beer. One for me too!


  1. Anonymous2/06/2009

    Hi, I was googling chicken stock recipes and found and older post. I had been saving ends and such from vegetables to use in stock, but I let them thaw out in the fridge and they turned to mush. Gross. Should I have just used them frozen? Or did they 'go bad?'

  2. Monica-I do use them straight from the freezer. I'm sorry...I should have stated that. Your scraps didn't "go bad" in terms of being bad for you, and I guess you still could have used them. But, you would've had to deal with the ick factor!


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