The husband-and-wife team behind the Food Network's Cajun Aces tell you everything you need to make authentic Cajun food
In addition to owning a pair of Cajun restaurants, husband-and-wife chef team Cody and Samantha Carroll host the hit Food Network show Cajun Aces, which delves into the details of the state's trademark ingredients. Last week, they demonstrated a few of them when they made their signature seared venison in the Food & Wine Test Kitchen (with the help of Food & Wine's own sous vide), and while there, they revealed the ingredients you need to make spectacular Cajun food anywhere.
Yes, while Cajun cooking will always have Louisiana as its home, the right ingredients can help you get some pretty good gumbo going in any state. The first guideline is one Cody's stepmother came up with: start with the "the holy trinity" of onions, bell pepper and celery, plus some flour and oil. "That's the base of most Cajun dishes," he says. "You make a dark roux, you add your trinity and really just grab anything you have, and it'll taste just like an étouffée, a stew or a gumbo." But if you want to get a little more specific, they also shared these five essential ingredients that you can order online, so you can make (almost) New Orleans-grade food wherever you are.
This critical seasoning combo evolved from the original Cajun cooking style, which Cody sums up as: "keep adding stuff until it tastes good." Today, it's the classic Cajun spice blend: garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper. Season any kind of meat or seafood with this for that essential Cajun mix of flavors.
"In Louisiana, every person has their own favorite hot sauce," says Cody. The Carrolls, on the other hand, use all of the state's hot sauces, to fill different needs.
Tabasco, made in Avery Island, Louisiana, has a smoky, vinegary flavor great for rounding out dishes that are sweeter, or need a bit of acid. "Tabasco kind of cuts through that sweetness," Samantha says, and makes the dish seem "a little aged," in a good way.
On the flipside is Crystal Hot Sauce, which moved to Reserve, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina destroyed its New Orleans factory. It's a sweeter hot sauce, and not too hot, so if the dish needs more sweetness, the Carrolls reach for this one.
With the right roux and spices, just about any meat or fish will work in a Cajun dish, but there's a few signature proteins, and chief among them is crawfish. "Crawfish is one of the best flavors of anything in the world," says Cody.
When it comes to Cajun snacks, cracklins are the best known, but the chefs also recommend boudin. A type of sausage made from liver and rice in casing, stores will wrap the boudin in foil and cook them in a crockpot, similar to boiling peanuts, creating a convenient Cajun snack. "Instead of grabbing a hot dog at 7-Eleven," Samantha says, "You'd go grab a boudin."