With its roots in the colorful culture of the Bayou, Cajun cuisine is a symphony of bold tastes and distinctive culinary methods. Take a gastronomic trip through the heart of Louisiana with our examination of the top-notch traditional Cajun dishes. Every food in the region offers a narrative of community and tradition, from the spicy dance of spices in jambalaya to the soul-warming embrace of gumbo, a rich stew reflecting the region’s varied influences. Savor traditional dishes like étouffée and boudin with us as we explore the marshes of flavor and learn why Cajun cooking is a celebration of life, love, and the skill of savoring every mouthwatering moment rather than just a meal.
No list of Cajun dishes would be complete without jambalaya. This Louisiana-born dish has French and Spanish influences. Jambalaya has two main preparation methods: Creole and Cajun. Creole jambalaya features tomatoes, celery, peppers, and onions. Most cooks add chicken and a variety of smoked sausages, including andouille. Cajun jambalaya removes the tomatoes from the dish. You’ll still find a mix of celery, peppers, and onions in the meal, along with a diverse blend of seasoning. You cook the rice directly in the broth of jambalaya – this lets the rice soak up the flavors of the broth while cooking.
Macque choux is one of my favorite Cajun side dishes. This spicy corn and pepper dish is a family favorite and goes well alongside any main course. If you’re looking for a way to spice up corn side dishes, you need to try maque choux. The recipe is quick and easy as well. Fried in bacon grease, maque choux is a mix of corn kernels, bell peppers, chopped onion, and Cajun seasonings. If you like your dishes spicy, you can add chopped jalapeno to the dish if you are feeling spicy. Once cooked, you’ll have an outstanding side dish that will be the hit of any BBQ or family gathering.
Gumbo rivals the popularity of jambalaya when it comes to Cajun food. This stew is the official state cuisine of Louisiana. Gumbo’s main ingredients include stock, celery, bell peppers, onions, and a variety of Cajun spices. The dish is comprised of meat and shellfish. Like jambalaya, the Creole version of gumbo includes tomatoes, while the Cajun version does not. Cajun gumbo features a dark roux and includes shellfish and chicken. Simmering the stew for hours gives it a wonderful blend of flavors. Gumbo is traditionally served as a main dish with rice on the side.
Étouffée is a popular cooking method in Louisiana. This stew is surprisingly easy to make and is a dish I like to make often. Its combination of flavors and textures is always a hit at home. Crawfish is the main ingredient in this stew. The stew features a blond roux that smothers and simmers the shellfish – this means the flour and butter in the roux are slightly cooked and turned a light brown color. Once you’ve mastered the roux, you’ll add onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic to the mix. While like gumbo, Étouffée features a thicker sauce than its counterpart.
If you’re not in the mood for a hearty stew, you can try a muffuletta sandwich instead. Since 1906, The Central Grocery Co. has been serving this hearty sandwich to residents and visitors of New Orleans. The traditional ingredients of a muffuletta include a loaf of muffuletta bread, olive salad, salami, ham, Swiss chees, provolone, and mortadella. Packed with flavor, this Cajun take on an Italian sub is a must-try when visiting New Orleans. The key to the sandwich is the olive salad. It’s a combination of celery, cauliflower, and carrot. Finally, you soak the salad in a mix of giardiniera, oregano, garlic, and olive oil.
Crawfish or Shrimp Boil
If you’re a fan of seafood, you have to go to a crawfish or shrimp boil while visiting Louisiana. Even if you’re not traveling, you can easily recreate a seafood boil at home. The crawfish or shrimp boil is a Louisiana alternative to a BBQ. Instead of grilling, you boil all the ingredients of a crawfish or shrimp boil together – this includes shellfish, potatoes, and corn. Andouille sausages are often part of a boil as well. Don’t forget the Zatarain’s crab boil seasoning. It’s almost as important as the crawfish in the boil. Traditionally, you serve a shellfish boil family-style. While it may be messy, crawfish and shrimp boils are delicious and fun.
Boudin is a traditional Cajun sausage made from pork, liver, rice, onion, and Cajun seasonings. Boudin balls take this sausage and make it a lovely comfort food treat. After removing the casings, you form the sausages into balls. You then bread the ball and fry it until crispy – making boudin balls a simple and easy dish to cook. Once cooked, many restaurants serve boudin balls with a variety of sauces, including remoulade sauce, whole-grain mustard, or Creole mustard. The combination of flavors and crispy texture make boudin balls a perfect addition to rice, spaghetti, baked beans, and more. You can also use them as the main ingredient in sandwiches.
Created in the early 1900s to feed street car workers in New Orleans, a traditional po’ boy sandwich features shrimp and a creamy remoulade sauce. This Lousiana classic is served on French bread rolls with iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. Depending on the location, you’ll find po’boy sandwiches with toasted or untoasted rolls. You can also find po’ boys featuring catfish, chicken, oysters, and vegan fillings. The remoulade sauce makes a po’ boy standout from other sandwiches. The traditional version of the sauce includes mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Combined, the ingredients in a po’ boy are mouth-watering and fulfilling.
Red Beans and Rice
Another essential Cajun dish, you can serve red beans and rice with almost any main course. This dish is a staple for many families in the South. This dish features a mix of bell pepper, onion, celery, Cajun spices, and pork broth. The beans and rice are slow-cooked in the broth – adding a wonderful flavor to the dish. If you want to make red beans and rice the main course, you can always add ham, sausage, or andouille to the dish. Replacing white rice with red beans and rice along with jambalaya or gumbo adds to those dishes as well. Other good side dishes for red beans and rice include cornbread, sausage, fried chicken, and collard greens.
Shrimp and grits
Is shrimp a breakfast food? Of course, it is. Shrimp and grits is a traditional Cajun dish served for breakfast, lunch, or brunch in Baton Rouge. This dish traditionally mixes grilled shrimp, bacon, cheese, and grits to create a hearty and tasty breakfast dish. You can also find restaurants serving alternatives that include fried catfish, salmon, or crawfish. If you loved this dish as much as I did on my trip to New Orleans, you can easily make shrimp and grits at home. The dish is surprisingly easy to cook and is a delight. It’s also a hearty dish that is packed with flavor.
Alligator is often used as a substitute for other meats in Cajun dishes. Almost any recipe you can make with chicken, pork, or beef, you can substitute alligator in the recipe. The meat has a mild flavor and firm texture. The meat is ground due to its chewiness, and I’d describe the flavor as a cross between fowl and fish. The key to alligator meat is the cooking method. Luckily, Cajun cooking offers a variety of dishes that alligator tastes great in. Some of the most common alligator preparations you’ll find include nuggets, sausages, jambalaya, or stew. You can also find restaurants that serve grilled or broiled alligator filets.
While andouille has uncertain origins, most food historians agree this sausage originated in France or Germany. The sausage found a home in Louisiana, and the chefs there created their unique version of the sausage. Andouille is a smoked pork sausage commonly seasoned with garlic, pepper, onions, wine, and Cajun seasonings. The Cajun version of andouille goes through two rounds of smoking. This fills the sausage with flavor and gives it a distinct pinkish color. Many Cajun dishes use andouille sausage as an ingredient. Andouille works great in gumbo, jambalaya, etouffle, red beans and rice, and more. You can add spice and flavor to almost any Cajun dish by adding a few andouille sausages to the mix.
Made from pork shoulder, tasso ham is a smoky and spicy cured meat from Louisiana. Traditionally, the pork shoulder is cured in a mix of spices to make tasso ham. Most butchers use a mix of thyme, marjoram, allspice, and cayenne. The mix gives the meat an intense flavor. You’ll get a variety of salty and spicy flavors in each bite of tasso. Tasso is extremely versatile and works in all types of dishes or as a main ingredient. It’s a perfect complement to gumbo, jambalaya, and other Cajun-inspired dishes. You can also use it to spice up greens, grits, soups, seafood dishes, and more.