Cajun, Creole and low-country cooking are similar, I think, because they’re culturally linked. I say it’s not the common spices or pork seasonings but the diversity that makes these similar cuisines so delicious.
According to a Cajun fellah I talked with at the Sapelo Station Restaurant on U.S. 17 near Eulonia (Townsend), the history behind Cajun and Creole cuisine goes back to the French Canadians who settled in Nova Scotia. During the French and Indian War, the British expelled nearly 12,000 of them. Many of them wound up in what became Louisiana, which still was a French colony.
He said the Cajun and Creole cultures kept their similarities, though they developed separately as Arcadians settled in Louisiana. Some mixed with Spanish and French-Caribbean around New Orleans, and some mixed with other Europeans as well as African- and Native Americans in the upper half of the Bayou State. He said that at the same time, Southern culture was developing and adding its own unique flavors with Cajun and Creole cuisine.
He told me low-country cooking started with enslaved Geechee and Gullah populations on South Carolina and Georgia’s coast. Their cooking included traditional African spices and veggies like okra, which were added to Southern favorites, already influenced by Caribbean cuisine. The word barbecue, for example, comes from a Caribbean word that means “head to tail,” according to jamesbeard.org (which explains North Carolina’s whole-hog cooking tradition).
As best I can tell, it’s the French, Spanish, African, Caribbean and Southern flavors that link Cajun, Creole and low country cooking. Maybe it’s why I enjoy all three.
If you’ve never experienced a low-country boil — red taters, corn on the cob, Kielbasa sausage and wild Georgia white shrimp stewed in a large pot — you’ve missed a feast. Low-country cuisine also gave us she-crab soup and shrimp and grits. Cajun cuisine gave us jambalaya and seafood gumbo. Creole cooking gave us shrimp Creole and red beans and rice.
My favorite Cajun (et al) restaurant is Blackwater Grill on St. Simons Island. It’s been featured on the Food Channel’s “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.” I start with an appetizer called boudin fritters, and then move onto grouper Daufuskie or blackened mountain trout. Their seasoned veggies include spicy collards and red beans and rice. They also serve a great bread pudding.
I don’t really cook Cajun, Creole or low-country dishes, though I will add their spices to many recipes. My son, however, has loaned me his recipe for red beans and rice.
Red beans and rice
3 smoked ham hocks
4 tablespoon butter
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. Cajun seasoning (i.e. Zatarain’s)
4 bay leaves
64 ounces chicken stock
1 pound dry red beans
1 pound Kielbasa or smoked sausage
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
Green onion to garnish
Melt butter in a stock pot on medium heat, and then add the bell pepper, onion and celery. Cook until veggies are soft. Add garlic and cook for several more minutes. Add Cajun seasoning and bay leaves. Stir. Add chicken stock and dried red beans. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer (covered) for six hours, stirring frequently. Add water as needed.
In another pot, cover the ham hocks with water. Simmer on low for five hours or until the ham hocks fall apart. Remove from the pot and save the cooking liquid. Add shredded ham hocks (without skin and fat) to the beans mixture. Filter the saved cooking liquid through a strainer and pour back in ham-hock pot. Reduce the cooking liquid on high until approximately 1 cup of liquid remains. It will have a concentrated smoked-pork flavor. Allow liquid to cool in the freezer, and then remove the top layer of fat. Add liquid to the beans.
During the last 45 minutes the beans are cooking, add half the sausage (diced). The remaining sausage should be scored and grilled. The beans should not have much liquid on top and will start to break down. Cook rice per instructions so it’s finished after beans have cooked six hours. Serve red beans on top of the rice with grilled sausage on top of that. Garnish with green onion.