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In 1604 the French colonized Acadia, the region surrounding present day Nova Scotia. Disputes with Great Britain over the sovereignty of the territory quickly arose. Over the next two centuries control of Acadia shifted between the French and the British, highlighted by interminable armed conflicts, political haggling, and treaties. Finally in 1785 the British had the upper hand and forced the Acadians from their homeland.
The Acadians then migrated to Louisiana where successive translations of their name produced the term “Cajun.” Cajun cooking, a hearty and rustic mixture of French and southern US influences, relied heavily on pork fat and spices. Creole, the other major New Orleans culinary force, was a fusion of French, Spanish, Caribbean and African cuisines. It was differentiated by a greater use of butter, cream, and tomatoes, and was considered more refined.
New Orleans is known for transforming legendary dishes into newfound classics. Bouillabaisse, the famous fish stew from the Provence region of France, was a forerunner to gumbo, a Creole favorite. Jambalaya, the Cajun version of paella, is a mixture of any number of meats, such as chicken, sausage, shellfish, duck, ham, etc., with rice, vegetables and seasonings. Creole or red jambalaya includes tomatoes while the Cajun style does not. Either way, it is a spicy and robust dish that epitomizes the soul of New Orleans.
• 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
• Olive oil as needed
• 12 oz. andouille or chorizo sausage, cut into medium dice
• 1 green bell pepper, chopped
• 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 batch scallions, chopped
• 3 celery ribs, chopped
• 6 cloves garlic, chopped
• 6 cups chicken broth
• 3 cups long grain rice
• 2 tablespoons paprika
• ½ teaspoon onion powder
• ½ teaspoon garlic powder
• ½ teaspoon dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon dried basil
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• ½ teaspoon celery salt
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 teaspoon salt
Trim the fat from the chicken thighs and then cut them into quarters. Season them with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Heat up a large pot, add olive oil, and brown the chicken on each side. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, set aside and then brown the sausage. Remove the sausage and then sauté the peppers, onions, and celery. Do not drain the grease between each item. Use it to sauté the next item and add flavor to the final dish. Sauté the vegetables until, soft. One minute before they are done add the garlic. Then add the chicken, sausage, broth, rice and seasonings. Cover, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes.
The skill of New Orleans’ chefs doesn’t cease at revolutionizing timeless classics. They invent masterpieces of their own. New Orleans originals include po boy sandwiches, muffulettas, oysters Rockefeller, beignets, and Shrimp Creole. Here’s one story of the birth of a New Orleans classic:
Owen Edward Brennan opened the famous Brennan’s Restaurant in 1946 in the French Quarter of New Orleans and it remains a New Orleans icon to this day. Members of the same family also own Commander’s Palace, an equally notable New Orleans culinary landmark. In the 1950’s New Orleans was the major port of entry for bananas from Central and South America. The story goes that in 1951 Mr. Brennan asked his chef Paul Blange, to create a dish featuring the tropical fruit. Chef Blange rose to the challenge and concocted the classic Bananas Foster. It was named for Richard Foster, a friend of Brennan and regular patron of the restaurant. It remains the most popular dish at the restaurant to this day. Each year Brennan’s utilizes over 35,000 pounds of bananas for the world renowned dessert. The standard recipe is as follows, (serves four):
• Two oz. butter
• One cup brown sugar
• Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
• Two oz. banana liqueur
• Four bananas, cut in half lengthwise and then in half crosswise
• Two oz. dark rum
Combine the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a skillet over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Watch the heat and stir almost constantly to prevent the mixture from burning. Add the banana liqueur. Add the bananas and cook until they soften and start to brown. Next, add the rum and tip the pan slightly so the flames ignite the rum. (This is known as flambéing). After the flames subside, place four pieces of banana over vanilla ice cream and spoon some of the sauce over them.
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