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A FRESH Point of View: Cajun or Creole?

Celebrating Mardi Gras? Then you’re speaking my language – I grew up in Louisiana and to me, Cajun and Creole are the foods you cook when you want the good times to roll.

But do you know which is which? The terms get used interchangeably, but they’re really not the same.

Cajun is the country cooking of the Acadians who settled Louisiana – a hearty, heavy, French-influenced kind of cooking with a lot of one-pot dishes. It may have some hot ingredients, like Andouille sausage, but not every dish is spicy-hot.

Creole is Cajun’s city cousin – a more refined, complex cuisine with more complicated technique and influences from all the people who settled New Orleans back in the day. French, Spanish, African, German – it’s all in there, a real melting pot of food.

The confusion comes in because both Creole and Cajun cuisines use many of the same ingredients and spices (okra, lots of seafood, garlic, and file – powdered sassafras used as a thickening agent.) Also, there are so many ways to cook every Cajun or Creole dish. Etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya – I have yet to meet two Cajun or Creole cooks who can agree on a single recipe.

Me, I grew up eating and cooking Cajun food, but my restaurant training was mostly in the more refined Creole style. So in our seafood department, most of our chef-prepared sauces and bases have a distinctive Creole profile.

These make it easy to go New Orleans for a night. Some simply need to be heated, and others, all you have to do is add the seafood of your choice:

Creole Clam Chowder: This is a New Orleans version of traditional New England chowder, with a creamy base but a deep flavor from our Creole spice mixes.

Gumbo: I started making gumbo with my dad when I was five years old. This is as traditional as it gets. Add your own shrimp, chicken or what have you.

Etouffee: Again, it’s a Creole classic. I like it with crawfish tails.

Oyster Rockefeller soup: The flavors of traditional Oysters Rockefeller – bacon, cheese, spinach – but in a creamy, rich soup.  Try it as a sauce, over a simple grilled or baked piece of fish.

Cioppino: An Italian-American seafood stew from San Francisco, but ours has the Creole spices; add your favorite shrimp, crab or other shellfish, and you’re ready to go.

Creole cocktail sauce: More intensely flavored than regular cocktail sauce; ours is spiked with fresh lemon juice, chile sauce and lots of Creole herbs and spices.

Creole spice mixes: These are great for adding to your own recipes, or sprinkle just a little on fish, chicken or vegetables before cooking. We make a classic Creole (with spices like garlic, cayenne and paprika); a Jamaican jerk, which has additional flavor from Caribbean ingredients like allspice and cinnamon; and three-citrus, which has half the salt but extra flavor from lemon, lime and organic orange-peel powder.