I spend much of my time in the kitchen chasing memories. Each of which brings me one step farther down the road towards a completed thought and finally something delicious to put on the dinner table. So often these memories are of the Sichuan food of my mother’s kitchen and the food of the New Orleans of my childhood. They are two such different cuisines from completely opposite ends of the earth, and yet I’ve come to realize that the similarities are hard to ignore. Neither are shy with their bold personalities and rich cultural histories. And the people of Louisiana and Sichuan are some of the most dedicated eaters in the world. It would only make sense that I follow suit. After all I was born to it.
Along with roux, a flour and fat concoction, creole seasoning and the holy trinity make up the foundation of many of New Orleans’s most famous dishes, from gumbo to crawfish étoufée to jambalaya. This is a cuisine built upon a marriage of European roots with Caribbean and African traditions. Much of Creole and Cajun cuisine, in particular Cajun cuisine grew out of what was available and what was necessary.
The holy trinity of Louisiana cooking is made up of onions, celery, and green bell pepper instead of the carrots used in traditional French mirepoix. Add some garlic and you have the holy trinity and the pope. With such names, I’m sure you can imagine the importance of these ingredients. So why the green bell pepper? I searched, but couldn’t find a historical reason for that difference. Does anyone else know? As for the flavor, I find that the green bell pepper adds a bite and bitterness that works wonderfully with the richly seasoned food of Louisiana. Whatever the reason, I bow down to the powerhouse threesome that is the holy trinity.
When cooking Creole/Cajun food, you’ve got to have a Creole seasoning mix. These are the spices that give Louisiana cooking that distinctive earthiness, bite, and a kind of complexity that you know could only come from many cultures getting together to make delicious food. Now you can certainly get a ready-made mix from the store, the most popular being Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, but I like to make my own. It is super easy and none of the spices really require much searching. I can also guarantee the freshness and potency of my spices this way. So seriously, stock up your spice cabinet and make this seasoning. We are going to be cooking with it!
C R E O L E S E A S O N I N G
adapted from Emeril’s Essence Creole Seasoning
1 1/2 tablespoons smoked paprika*
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons coursely ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
Combine all spices and mix well. Store in an airtight jar.
*I like to use pimentón, Spanish paprika. It is much more flavorful than the standard paprika you often find in grocery stores.