Make Great Gumbo
Naturally, any discussion of Louisiana cuisine has to include gumbo, which was invented by French settlers as an attempt to make bouillabaisse with "new world" ingredients. Instead of using a traditional French mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrots, they employed what's now known as the Louisiana holy trinity: onions, celery, and green bell peppers. Gumbos vary by their thickening agent, specifically okra, file powder (ground sassafras leaves), or a roux. While most people think of seafood when they think of gumbo, one of our favorites, from Lafayette, employs smoked duck, pheasant, and andouille sausage in a dark brown, almost black roux.
You've Got Game
Speaking of ducks and pheasants, we can't help but marvel at the wild bounty available in Louisiana. While Louisianians revel in the fruits of the Gulf of Mexico, many don't realize that one of the state's mottos is "Sportsman's Paradise." The sporting this slogan refers to isn't football or baseball, but hunting and fishing. Spend a reasonable amount of time in the state, and you'll undoubtedly come across dishes featuring venison (especially deer sausage), duck, wild boar, even squirrel, and nutria. We're particularly fond of the traditional preparation of rabbit, pan-fried with Creole mustard and served with braised greens and mashed potatoes.
Let the Good Rice Roll
Louisiana is also well known for its most abundant staple crop: rice. You can find it at almost every meal across the state. Most notable are jambalaya, a Cajun version of the Spanish dish paella, made with anything and everything, including shrimp, fish, chicken, sausage, or whatever happens to turn up in your rifle's scope that afternoon. Most other Louisiana soups and stews, such as gumbo, shrimp, or crawfish étouffée, or alligator sauce piquant, are spooned over rice. Also in Cajun country, you can find boudin, a spicy sausage made from rice, pork meat and livers, vegetables, and seasoning in a natural casing. Another version of this dish, boudin balls, is breaded and deep-fried as a snack.
Enticing Tasso Ham
A definite influence of Louisiana's Spanish history can be found in the ways that its people employ ham. We're particularly fond of tasso, a very spicy ham that's cubed and used to flavor soups, stews, and pastas. Ham is also found in many other iconic Louisiana dishes, such as the famous red beans and rice. Served every Monday, red camellia beans are soaked overnight, then slow simmered with the "holy trinity," bay leaf, garlic, and spices, and a whole ham hock, preferably smoked, as well as cubed ham and sausage.
The Signature Sandwich: Po-Boy
We've tried to find a decent po-boy sandwich outside of the state of Louisiana, but we're consistently disappointed. There must be something magical in the state's air and water, especially when it comes to the "French bread," for po-boys, which is not a traditional baguette (although it's the same shape), but soft and chewy on the inside, with a delicate, flaky crust. Many love po-boys filled with fried shrimp, oysters, catfish or alligator, but we're in love with roast beef long simmered in a rich, dark brown gravy, as well as hot sausage, and, from Mahoney's restaurant in New Orleans, a fried chicken liver po-boy with creole slaw. Whatever your favorite, make sure to order it "dressed" with mayonnaise, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and hot sauce.