Back in the '80's when Louisiana Cuisine became en vogue, many of the ingredients I considered to be "everyday" could not be eaily found in grocery stores outside of Southeast Louisiana.
Few people understood our culinary lingo such as tasso, boudin,andouille, file' (pronouced fee-lay) powder, cayenne, hot sauce, cane syrup, or crawfish. Most of these ingredients are easily found in most grocery stores and believe me, living in "Bug Tussle, TN", even I can find can get my grubby little fingeres on file' powder. If you can't find them in your local grocery, you can find them online.
Come to think of it, most of the ingredients used in Bayou Country are simple, basic ingredients that have been used for well over 100 years. Seriously, a Louisiana cook keeps these ingredinets on hand at all times. You never know when you will need to produce jambalaya or gumbo on the fly!
Ok, so I'm going to give you a peek inside of my Louisiana pantry even though it is located in East Tennessee. I'm a Louisiana cook and I have to be prepared at all times!
First. there is all-purpose flour and Canola or vegetable oil. Flour and oil are the two ingredients used for making a roux. The roux is the base or thickening agent of any good gravy and the base of some of the more well known Lousiaiana dishes such as bisques, gumbos, stews and gravies.
Tabasco is probably the best known hot sauce from Louisiana, but there are many other Louisiana-made hot sauces that are quite good. You may want to give them all a try to find one or two that you prefer. Most are made with cayenne peppers or a blend of cayenne and other peppers.
In recent years, there has been an introduction of flavored hot sauces. Tabasco, for example, has one flavored with garlic, and another called Tabasco Brand Green Pepper Sauce. Cajun Chef Products, Inc., based in St. Martinville, has been manufacturing a green hot sauce for years that is also exceptional. Other popular brands include Crystal Hot Sauce from Baumer Foods, Inc. and Louisiana Hot Sauce and Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce from Bruce Foods Corporation.
While pepper sauces are used in cooking, they are more commonly offered as a condiment for diners to season plates to personal taste. Speaking of peppers, a teaspoon or two of the pickling liquid from pickled peppers can also give your scrambled eggs or vegetables a little pizzaz.
Rice is another South Louisiana must. My preference is extra long-grain, but there are some cooks who opt for medium or short-grain when making a jambalaya or boudin stuffing. Louisianians consume as much rice in one year (about 50 pounds per person) as other Americans eat in five.
Little Cajun babies cut their teeth on rice and gravy. I know many South Louisianians that would not consider letting a day go by without having something with rice: gumbo and rice, red beans and rice, jambalaya, rice cakes, rice salad, or rice pudding. My husband fits well into this category. Many of you know, I'm a pasta girl.
Whatever the choice, rice is steamed, not boiled. I usually cook my rice in a rice cooker. For some reason I just can't get rice to come out right on the stove. The method for cooking is supposed to be really simple. It's one to two ratio: one of rice to two of water. Put the rice in a heavy saucepan, sprinkle in some salt and a spoon or two of butter, olive oil or vegetable oil. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and cook until all of the water is absorbed, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Tasso, once made from the trimmings of the hog at a boucherie (a group of families butchering a hog and all taking part in processing the meat), has always been used to flavor vegetables, stews, sauces and gumbos. These days, tasso is made from pork shoulder, heavily seasoned and smoked for an intense flavor.
When it comes to cane syrup, the best is Steen's 100% Pure Cane Syrup made in Abbeville. The dark, thick syrup is liberally poured on biscuits, cornbread, and pain perdu, otherwise known as lost bread or French toast. It is also the main ingredient in two Cajun desserts, gateau de sirop (syrup cake) and les oreilles de cochon, fried pastries.
Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs have become very popular. Even here in Knoxville, many a UT tailgater can be caught boiling these delectable crustaceans that resemble miniature lobsters. In the Spring, especially on the weekends the air is filled with the wonderful aroma of crawfish boiling in huge pots over butane burners in backyards, grocery stores and seafood shops all through southern Louisiana. The peeled crawfish tails are used to make etouffee, bisque and are simply scrumptious all by themselves.
Creole mustard is a pungent prepared mustard made from spicy brown mustard seeds. The seeds are steeped in distilled white vinegar, then coarsely ground and let to marinate for up to twelve hours before packing. It's great for spreading on po-boy sandwiches or to spice up a remoulade sauce.
Okra reached America with the slaves and was known as its original name in Tshi: gombo. Okra is used primarily as a thickener in gumbos but also is served fried as a vegetable, or pickled and used in salads or to garnish a martini.
Now I bet if you go check your pantry, you'll find out your at least half Cajun...go look, really, see, I told you.