Cajun food isn’t something you do in a fancy sit-down restaurant. It’s by the side-of-the-road during a parade, in a bar, under-a-tent, in a community center, in a tiny hole-in-the-wall café kind of food.
Just about anywhere along the Louisiana Gulf coast you’ll find it. But what IS Cajun food? We talked to Al Kuhlman at the Forest Inn in Franklin, LA, and he told us Canadian, Creole and French roots all combine in Cajun food. He added that gumbo is the star.
At the heart of gumbo is a proper roux, which is basically hot oil and flour.
“You have to know how long to leave it cooking so it won’t taste burnt,” Al explained. Then, to this base (and everyone has their own version) you add the “ trinity” of onions, bell peppers and celery, then the sausage or chicken or shrimp.
It’s less than a stew, more than a soup and the kind of spicy that makes your tongue shiver. http://forestrestaurantfranklin.com/
Sure, Cajun food not on anyone’s weight loss diet list. But, oh my, it IS irresistible.
At Guillory’s Famous Foods in Lake Charles, Louisiana, my friends and I learned about cracklins.
Darby Guillory took us to his back room where a mammoth vat of hog fat bubbled.
Cracklins are fried fat back. It comes from around the pig’s mid-section and includes the skin, some fat and, if it’s quality cracklin, some meat. Darby had cut it into one-inch cubes, which floated in the vat until he fished them out with a slotted ladle Then his wife sprinkled on seasonings.
The secret, Darby said, is ‘You’ve gotta eat them fresh and hot.”
Think bacon. No, think super bacon. No, think of what a million or so years of evolutionary attraction to fat and salt have done to your willpower. Don’t even try to fight it.
Cracklins, Darby admonished, are eaten on the spot, in the car, on the way home. But not, absolutely not, hours later when they’re fossilized, if you value your teeth. http://guillorysfamousfoods.com/
For full Creole immersion there’s the SW Louisiana Boudin Trail. Boudin (pronounced boo-dan).is rice and pork sausage rice (ground pork with or without liver, onions, celery and ‘secret’ blends of spices in sausage casing) and it’s delicious. The Boudin Trail features more than two dozen stops that wander through two parishes (counties) and range from convenience stores to cafes. (Few of these places have websites, but many have Facebook pages.)
LeBleu’s Landing is a family-owned Cajun meat market and cafe. Owners Kevin and Shelley Downs prefer their boudin without liver, which many others include. Think dirty rice in a handy, chewable tube and you get the idea. http://www.lebleuslanding.com/
Jeff Benoit is the third generation to run B&O Kitchen & Grocery where the offerings run the gamut from gator, jerky, cracklins, stuffed chickens, hog head cheese and, of course, boudin .
Local hunters come from all over to have their catch processed t B&O. Jeff keeps a file with folks’ sausage preferences.
But the star of B&O is the Gaudidoun Burger, a mile high presentation of BBQ pulled pork or beef brisket, boudin balls, and fixins (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle). https://www.facebook.com/BO-Kitchen-and-Grocery-171012087541/
And there are many more of these tiny roadside stops where you will find just about any Cajun finger food you desire.
Fried Pickles and Crawdads
Much later, in Houma, LA, at Big Al’s Seafood, there were crawdads.
But first, the fried pickles. Everyone should try batter fried pickles at least once. It’s crunch and tang and of course, that instinctive gut craving for anything fried.
I passed on the grilled fish. Y’all don’t do grilled anything on a southern Louisiana vacation.
But after a week of fried catfish and fried gator and fried shrimp interspersed with sausage and boudin, I was ready for … boiled crawdads.
These things look like tiny versions of the lobsters that are their relatives. At Big Al’s you order ‘em by the two pound platter.
Yeah, the idea is to share with the table. But my travel buddies were exuberantly forking into their grilled fish, so I had the entire tray to myself.
There’s a method to eating crawdads, the helpful waitress with a honey accent, explained. Pinch off the head and suck out the juices. But don’t eat that feathery stuff, which my waitress helpfully warned “Tastes like poop.”
Thus fortified with a mouthful of spicy heaven, it’s time to get to the real job. Pinch that tiny tail and hope the shell peels off. You will then be rewarded with a microscopic shard of the most wonderful tasting sweet crawdad meat.
Maybe I should have collected a bunch to get a real mouthful, but I was too zombified by that week of fried eating, so I methodically did them one by one by … you get the idea. http://bigalsseafood.com/
– Story and photos by Yvette Cardozo, RFT Ski & Dive Editor
If You Go
Other Things to Do in SE Louisiana:
If you’re interested in doing things other than chowing down on delicious Cajun food, here are some suggestions:
* Tour Lake Charles historic district via horse carriage (One of the finest collections of Victorian architecture in the state, dating from the late 1800s). J& R Carriage –
* Brimstone Museum for fascinating history of sulphur in the area.
* Mardi Gras Museum with hundreds of elaborate Krewe (crew) royalty costumes.
* Contraband Days – Held during the first two weeks of May, is the city’s official celebration of the legend of the pirate Jean Lafitte.