Skip to main content

A guide to Cajun food, a Franco-American wonder

Everything you need to know about Cajun cuisine

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Of the many great American exports out there, Cajun food sits toward the top of the list. Equal parts French culinary wisdom and Bayou soul, it’s something of a hybrid but also very much its own cuisine. And it’s responsible for some of the most tantalizing dishes out there.

Sure, it started in New Orleans and sometimes involves crawfish. But it’s way, way more than that. We won’t dive too deep, but it pays to so something about this incredible food style, born right here in the U.S.A.

To begin, it must be said that there are distinctions between creole and Cajun cuisine. There’s a lot of crossover, too, but generally the former is was established a bit earlier, built largely around the enslaved Black community of southern Louisiana and borrowing from African and Spanish tradition, among others.

Cajun cuisine came together after New Orleans became a city and is generally the creation of the French who were booted out of Acadia by the British in the mid-1700s. Louisiana cooking is a mashup of the two, for certain, but here we will mostly dabble in the French-inspired Cajun category.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Arriving in New Orleans was a bit of a shift for the Acadians. The climate was drastically different, meaning they could no longer create a lot of the dishes they were accustomed to. So, a kind of fusion was born between some classic Old World cookery and more of the rustic and seafood-heavy dishes of the Gulf Coast.

Due to its location, the Big Easy and Cajun cooking grew to incorporate freshwater and saltwater protein like catfish, redfish, crawfish, and shrimp, along with other staples like turkey, duck, pork, and even alligator. The holy trinity of Cajun cuisine borrows from French gastronomy as is built around the trifecta of bell pepper, onion, and celery.

Historically, the cooking genre has often revolved around braising, boiling, smothering, grilling, and stewing. Major ingredients and items continue to be cornbread, scallions, pecans, okra, sweet potatoes, cayenne peppers, collard greens, and more. Sure, there are the festive and spectator-friendly crawfish boils. But there’s also head cheese, dirty rice, boudin balls, tarte à la bouillie, and pecan pralines.

Signature Dishes


Image used with permission by copyright holder

A spicy pork sausage of French origin, andouille in Cajun tradition involves garlic, pepper, onions, and wine. It’s double-smoked and, in more rural areas especially, it’s made like it was in its homeland, by seasoning, hanging, and smoking pig intestines.


Sometimes called scratchings, gratons are the solid snack-y bits left over after rendering meat like pork, chicken, or goose. They’re often salted and eaten as an appetizer in Louisiana.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

A true Cajun star, gumbo is the official state cuisine of Louisiana. It’s usually made with a dark gravy or roux, along with shellfish or game. It’s very common to also throw some sausage or ham and the whole thing melds delightfully thanks to several hours of simmering during preparation.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Like more than a few Cajun dishes, the rules for jambalaya aren’t very strict. A stew of rice and shrimp, it tends to incorporate chicken and crawfish, sometimes beef. The meats join up with bell peppers, tomatoes, onion, celery, and chili peppers.

Boiled Crawfish

Image used with permission by copyright holder

A southern staple, especially in the Bayou, boiled crawfish is like the party-ready, more accessible version of lobster. It takes a bit of skill to eat and is often hit with spices like paprika, garlic, and oregano, along with a number of different hot sauces.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

This dish involves a broth-y mix of shellfish served atop or beside a bed of rice. The sauce is made via smothering, a kind of stovetop braising. In this case, the sauce is built around roux (animal fat and flour) and a crawfish version remains vastly popular.

Tasso Ham

Image used with permission by copyright holder

A fatty and heavily seasoned dish, tasso involves pork shoulder hit with salt, cured, then often treated to cayenne pepper and garlic. It’s served with vegetables or cut up and thrown into other dishes such as jambalaya.



Image used with permission by copyright holder

Emeril Lagasse knows a few things about Cajun cooking. He even earned a regional James Beard Award working within its parameters. Here’s his jambalaya recipe, a go-to that reheats wonderfully, so make extra.

Prep Time: 30 minuntes

Total Time: 90 minutes

Yield: 6 servings


  • 24 medium peeled, deveined shrimp, about 1/2 pound, chopped
  • 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced
  • 1 tablespoon Emeril’s Original Essence
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups long grain rice
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 pound Andouille sausage, sliced
  • chopped green onion for garnish


  1. Combine the shrimp, chicken, and Essence in a bowl and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil over in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers and celery, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring for 10 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire, and hot sauces. Stir in the rice and slowly add the broth.
  3. Bring the rice to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to low and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the shrimp and chicken mixture, and the sausage. Cover and cook for 10 minutes longer.
  5. Turn off the heat and allow the jambalaya to continue to steam 10 minutes longer before serving. Stir in the green onion.

Cajun Style Okra

Flickr/Rebecca Wilson

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


  • 2 cups okra
  • 1/2 cups oil for frying
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tomatoes, blanched and peeled
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun spice, ground


  1. Clean okra and halve lengthwise.
  2. Heat oil in a pan deep enough for frying. Fry okra for 3-4 minutes, then place on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
  3. Chop tomatoes into large pieces.
  4. Heat olive oil in another pot on low. Sauté onion and garlic until translucent.
  5. Add spices and tomatoes, then continue cooking on low heat for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add salt and pepper and stir. Pour sauce into a deep plate and lay okra on top.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
Learn how to master the Coquito cocktail with these great recipes
Want to drink like they do in Puerto Rico? Mix up a Coquito, or little coconut, with these great recipes
Coquito Cocktail

In Puerto Rico, the Coquito reigns supreme. The cocktail, which translates to little coconut, is a go-to around the holidays but delicious all year long. It's an ideal drink for rum, rich, tropical, and inherently festive.

Yes, it's a major deal come Christmastime. But really, this sweet and creamy drink is great anytime you feel like dessert in a glass, whether it's as a great nightcap drink or post-meal dessert sipper. Simply put, if you gravitate towards eggnog, you're going to fall for this Puerto Rican classic.

Read more
1 of 2 American adults aren’t getting enough magnesium — these foods will help
Magnesium is a vital mineral that can help the body in a myriad of ways
Dried fruit and brazil nuts high in magnesium.

Magnesium is more than a fun-to-say word that sounds like something a super hero gets their power from. It's a vital mineral that can offer a big assist to your mood, quality of sleep, heart, and more. But how do we take in more of the stuff, aside from going the supplement route?

Foods high in magnesium, of course, and tasty, snack-able ones that that. Fortunately, you've got options in this department, so adjust your grocery shopping list accordingly. And you should, because the mineral helps with protein synthesis, keeping your blood pressure in check, and helping your muscles work better. Magnesium also keeps bones and teeth healthy, one more reason to load up.

Read more
Wait, they made a pink pineapple?
Want something a little different? Look no further than the pink pineapple, an actual thing
A halved pinkglow pineapple.

The best Valentine's Day gift available might just be a pink pineapple. That's right, the tropical fruit long associated with candy-sweet yellow flesh now comes in pink. You can thank the folks at Del Monte for the fruit, which alleges to be juicier and sweeter than traditional pineapple.

Dubbed the jewel of the jungle, this relatively rare breed of pineapple hails from the jungles of Costa Rica. It's a stunning specimen, reminiscent of grapefruit in terms of color and great for snacking or mixing into a drink (after all, in the canon of good tiki drinks, pineapple is king).

Read more