John and I just came back from an epic road trip. Camping in Walmart parking lots in the back of our SUV, we wound our way through the deep south, putting thousands of miles on the odometer as we made our way through 8 different states.
Starting in Louisiana, we headed north to Mississippi then through Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and finally Florida, taking in as much as we could of everything.
Of course, one fine feature of the south east part of the continent is the cuisine. From Cajun and Creole, to soul food, to everything deep-fried, to fantastic sea food and BBQ a plenty, John and I were on cloud nine as we indulged in a smorgasbord of southern delights.
So over the next few weeks, I am going to take you through our trip, with a food perspective of course!
New Orleans and Louisiana
Our trip started in New Orleans where John and I headed out to the French Quarters to take in the city. Trolleys, Bourbon Street, and music playing everywhere were just a few of the sights and sounds we enjoyed (or in the case of Bourbon Street, smells we DID NOT enjoy.)
Of course, New Orleans is packed with Cajun and Creole food around every corner, and we had our fill. Blackened catfish, crawfish etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya and pralines were just a few of the delicacies New Orleans had to offer.
An interesting thing we learned while down there is the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine. It comes down ingredients and using what is available. Cajun is traditionally more rural as the Cajuns lived off the land, so they make use of more wild game, and different kinds of fats, using animal fat over butter. Creole is more urban and had access to more ingredients, preferring butter over animal fats and oils.
John and I headed to Café du Monde to try their beignets, deep fried dough topped with an unnecessarily but delightfully large pile of icing sugar. Turns out that the world-famous Café Du Monde doesn’t make the best beignets in town. John and I gave that award to Morning Call, a café located in the main park in New Orleans. Their beignets were just a little better!
Louisiana is known for its spice blends and hot sauces. John and I have a weakness for such sauces and condiments, and lost all self-control when we went inside some of the fantastic hot sauce stores in New Orleans. Apart from just hot sauces, they boast awesome assortments of BBQ sauces, spice blends, pepper jellies, salsas, ketchups, spreads – with many of them out for sampling! As you can probably guess, John and I brought a lovely assortment home.
Outside of town, we opted for the classic Louisiana swamp tour. We went out on a 6 person airboat. John got his camera so close to the alligator for a shot that the guide was nervous. I just had to share this picture with you (along with a couple others!)
So this week’s recipe…
Pictured here is a great meal John and I made upon returning from our trip. Inspired by all of the delicious food around us, we made a combo of blackened halibut, dirty rice and tomatoes and okra. This effort reassured us that yes, yes we can cook southern food here in Alberta! John blackened the halibut on his komado, and got the cast iron grill so hot he couldn’t even put oil on there without causing some kind of fire. It was intense, but the final product was delicious! I made the sides, the dirty rice and okra dish.
Rice is a staple side for many dishes you order in New Orleans, and of course isn’t just any regular rice. It usually comes with a side of Cajun dirty rice, or some form of jambalaya. The official definition of dirty rice is rice made with chicken livers, which give the rice the colour. I am not quite that adventurous, so I made my own chicken liver-less version. This recipe makes a great spicy side dish, and is kind of similar to a jambalaya. It features chorizo or Andouille sausage a selection of vegetables, and just a pinch of cayenne pepper.
- You may need to simmer the rice a bit longer than the usual cook time. Keep an eye on it!
- Feel free to add more vegetables and meat if you want to beef the dish up a little, and eat it as a meal.
- The secret is in the sausage, as the spice and fats add a lot of flavour to the rice dish
Ingredient I can’t live without:
I always have these on hand in the freezer– great ingredients for spicy soup, paella, jambalaya and of course Cajun dirty rice!
Spice of the week:
John and I love Cajun seasoning. Great on potatoes, in eggs, a nice spicy blend, good on so many things. The best use we have found is a rub for steak! (John’s Cajun butter steak is to die for!)
So stay tuned for the next phase of our trip, and the accompanying recipe!
Click here to view recipe:
Cajun Dirty Rice Recipe
Click here to view Deep South Part 2: Savannah, Georgia and Stewed Okra with Tomatoes
Click here to view Deep South Part 3: Charleston, South Carolina and Dirty Rice
Click here to view Deep South Part 4: Natchez, Mississippi and Fried Chicken with Biscuits
Cajun Dirty Rice
½ to 1 chorizo or Andouille sausage, cut into small pieces
½ onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
½ green pepper, finely chopped
1 tomato, diced
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup brown rice + 2.5 cups water/vegetable broth
or 1 cup white rice + 2 cups water/vegetable broth
Heat pot and add sausage. Saute and then add onions. Add garlic, celery and green pepper. Then add tomato. Add cayenne.
Add rice and water/broth, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer on medium low for 35-40 minutes (check at 35)