Ingredient Spotlight: Louisiana Favorites

Happy Fat Tuesday! In the spirit of Mardi Gras, I thought I'd share some of my favorite Louisiana ingredients and goods. This roundup is not the be-all and end-all of Cajun and Creole delicacies, but it should get the comments rolling for now.

Image via Leah's Pralines

Andouille sausage: French in origin (go figure), this Cajun sausage is traditionally made using pork butt, shank, and fat, along with salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic, and smoked low-and-slow over pecan wood and sugar cane. These days you can find decent brands in major supermarkets, but if you want the real stuff, order it from Jacob's.

Cane syrup: Louisiana's answer to maple syrup, cane syrup is made by extracting the juice from raw sugar cane stalks and boiling it down until it's thick and rich. It has a buttery, slightly-toasted flavor, and it tastes good in just about anything that needs syrup. (My southern-style granola comes to mind). Look for Steen's, one of the last functioning cane syrup mills in the country.

Coffee with chicory: During tough times when coffee was scarce, roasted chicory (from the root of the endive plant) was added to stretch the supply. It is said to mellow the bitterness and impart an almost chocolate-like flavor to a strong brew. If you've ever had a Cafe Au Lait at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans than you know what I mean, however Luzianne, Community, and French Market all produce a chicory blend worth a try.

Crawfish: The lobster of the South! Also known as crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs, yabbies, these freshwater crustaceans thrive in the swamps of South Louisiana, and taste best when harvested in the spring. A live boil is my favorite way to enjoy the critters, and then I pray there are enough leftovers for this deliciously sinful dip. You can order the buggers live to your door from Lousiana Crawfish or Cajun Grocer.

Hot Sauce: There is a lot of debate over which Louisiana hot sauce is best. Now I am a Tabasco girl through and through (although I keep some Crystal hidden away in the pantry), but from the comments I got on this red beans & rice post, I know that those there are fighting words! So let's all wave the white flag for a moment and make peace over a bottle of TryMe Tiger Sauce—it's not too hot, a little bit sweet, and big on flavor. Seriously, pour it in anything (including those red bean hatin' eyes!)

King Cake: Epic wars have been started over king cakes, I'm sure. Maybe not bloody ones, but dramatic ones to say the least. If you're from New Orleans, you are born into your bakery (a "royal" arranged marriage of sorts). For the rest of us, the choice is ours to decide. I prefer Haydel's (I've found the baby the last two years in a row!), but you should give Randazzo's, Gambino's, and Sucre a shot before you claim a favorite.

Red Beans: Cajuns are serious about their beans, their red beans in particular. Camellia Brand, a red beans & rice requirement, are the gold standard of New Orleans cuisine, and said to yield the creamiest pot o' beans around. If you are crunched for time, however, a can of Blue Runner's will work in a pinch.

Rice: Rice is big business in the bayous of Louisiana, and the lesser-known popcorn rice is reining supreme. A long-grain basmati hybrid with a distinctly nutty taste, popcorn rice actually smells like its namesake when it cooks. It's a favorite of chefs around the country, and especially good paired with those ever-present Camellia beans.

Po-Boy Bread: A po-boy without good po-boy bread isn't a po-boy worth eating. The bread, in fact, is said to be the most important component of all! The best loaf is a high-quality, freshly baked French bread with a crisp, flaky exterior that's fluffy and soft on the inside. Anything else should be considered sub par! If making po-boys at home, order the bread from Gambino's or Reisings (now owned by the famous Leidenheimer's).

Pralines: Pralines are a creamy, sugary-sweet pecan confection—for lack of more poetic words—and a New Orleans culinary institution. The very best ones are freshly churned out of a copper pot, but if you don't currently have access to some Louisiana pecans (or a copper pot), try a batch from either of these two famed praline-makers: Southern Candymakers and Leah's. I promise, your sweet tooth will thank you.

Now it's your turn! Share your favorite Louisiana ingredients in the comments below.







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