her book Creole, Sybil Klein states the
following: Louisiana Creole cuisine extends
to all those countries that trace the pattern
of the American slave trade route from West Africa to the Caribbean down to
thee north eastern coast of South s America and finally back up to Louisiana.
Once in the New World, these slaves not only grew the produce but were responsible for preparing and cooking dishes that fed slave owners and slaves for hundreds of years.
The result of what these millions of cooks created from the cultural memory of cookingin Africa combined with the acculturated tastes and ingredients from indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, South America, and Louisiana was Creole cuisine.
The West African connection to Creole cuisine is apparent upon examination of the culinary habits of West African people. Jessica B. Harris traces the early diet of West Africans from the Middle Ages.
She summarizes her findings: It all started
in Africa.Although some foods brought to the New World by slaves were indigenous
to Africa - such as okra, kidney beans,, black-eyed peas, and watermelon -
others were introduced to the African diet by European traders.
From the mid-sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth century, the eating habits of Africa were transformed.
The coconut tree arrived from South Asia sometime between 1520 and 1540, while sweet potatoes and maize came from America in the same century.
The seventeenth century saw the arrival of cassava and pineapple, while the eighteenth brought guavas and peanuts.
The Portuguese are responsible for the transplanting to
Africa of those small hot chiles, as well as corn, cassava, and whites potatoes.
Other chile peppers and tomatoes were also transplanted from the New World.
African link to Creole cuisine is perhaps strongest with regard to food preparation techniques and cooking methods. The most frequent practice, however, was the use of mortar and pestle for pounding dry peppers,, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables
This technique of making a paste to add to sauces is probably the origin of the Creole roux, the base for all gravies or sauces. When asked for many recipes, Creole cooks automatically answer: First you make a roux.
One of the meanings of the French roux is brown sauce. According to Jules Faine, the Haitian Creole roux means rouge, or red.
Creole cooks not only brown the flour but they also brown the onion, garlic, and other vegetable seasonings to add to gravies.
Browning some vegetables in this manner releases their sugar content, thus caramelizing the vegetables and giving them a sweeter taste.
Since many of the cooks during the period of slavery were mulatto women, all of those definitions come together; following the African tradition, Creole cooks served with many of their main dishes delicious sauces made with the roux technique.
The Real Origins of Creole Crusine
Another example of an African cooking method is barbecue. African often roasted meats and served them with a sauce; . . . throughout the New World, barbecues are very popular only in those countries which have or have had a sizable number of black people.
Creole fried chicken is another dish that follows the African technique: the cook prepared the poultry by dipping it in a batter and deep fat frying it [Also] throughout West Africa, it was a favorite practice to serve chicken, grilled or fried, with a sauce, over rice.
Another West African method of food preparation used by Creole cooks is deep-fat frying of meats, fritters, and a variety of fish and shellfish dishes.
technique is one of the reasons for the
particular flavor of the Creole fried cuisine.
Africans cooked by steaming, baking,
stewing, roasting, or frying. . . . Meats
were roasted, stewed, or fried. Although fish
was sometimes smoked ort pickled, it
was usually fried or stewed.
One characteristic of Creole dishes common to Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and Louisiana
is the hot spicy peppers found in sauces and often added to dishes after cooking.
Whether it is the extremely hot pilly-pilly of West Africa, the burning hot Bonda Mam Jacques (Mme Jacques behind) used in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the very hot chili jalapeño and habanero peppers of the Caribbean and South America , or the hot, hot cyenne pepper of Louisiana, this tongue tingling spiciness is the signature of Creole food.
Some Louisiana seafood gumbos are flavored with a Choctaw Indian spice called file, which also functions as a thickening agent. In much of West Africa gombo means okra.
Okra is used in gumbos for thickening the sauce. Creole cooks prepare a variety of bean dishes. As in West Africa, the beans are boiled and a spicy sauce is made from or combined with the beans.
Louisianas own Creole red beans and rice is cooked that way with the addition of a salt meat or sausage for seasoning. Add coconut milk and the dish is known as Arroz con Frijoles in the Dominican Republic. Congris, a specialty of Cuba, is also a version of red beans and rice. In Haiti they are called Pois Rouge en Sauce or Pois et Riz Colles.
Jambalaya and Mirliton are other Louisiana Creole dishes with Afro-Caribbean links.
Jambalaya is said by one author to be an African dish, based on her identification of the word as a combination of jamba (ham) and paella (rice), the main ingredients.Another fritter or fried doughnut is the beignet.
Beignets are deep-fried African style, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and served hot with café au lait.
The praline, a Creole candy made from sugar, cream, and pecans, was supposedly invented by the cook of one Marshall Dupleeses-Preslin (1598-1675) and remains a popular sweet in New Orleans. It can also be found in other parts of the southern United States.
Creole cookery has an amazing legacy from four continents. It is no wonder that Creole is so popular around the world.
The excellent use of indigenous spices and
African cooking methods combined with talent for developing the new from the
old make Creole food a valuable resource with deep roots in the African diaspora
and an important element in defining Creole culture.
The History and Legacy of Louisianas Free People of Color
Edited by Sybil Kein
o u i s i a n a"