For those living under a rock, one of New Orleans' main claims to world renown has been its local cuisine, whether it is Creole, Cajun, Soul, or anything in-between. But what makes so many people love New Orleans food? The most obvious answer to that would be the flavor. But what makes the flavor unique? You'll get a different answer depending on whom you ask. My answer, and I'm thinking a lot of locals' answer as well, to that question would have to be the spices that are used in our cooking.
Don't get me wrong; the main ingredients in both Creole and Cajun cuisine are the bedrocks that help make New Orleans food so unique. You absolutely need the beans for your red beans and rice, the sausage for your Andouille gumbo, the crawfish for your etouffee, etc. While all of those are essential, it's the spices that serve an even more important role: accentuating and complimenting the flavors of the main ingredients. A steak is just fine by itself, but it instantly tastes better just by adding a little bit of salt and pepper.
So what exactly are the typical spices that New Orleans cooking, specifically Creole and Cajun, calls for? Surprisingly (or not), many of the same spices appear in both cuisines, given the French influences that appear in both cultures. Typically, these spices are salt, black pepper, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, and onion pepper. Other spices that can also be found in Cajun and Creole cooking include dried basil, chili powder, and cumin powder. With all or most of these spices added to New Orleans chow, it helps give the food a distinctive spicy heat that does not overpower and cover up the flavors of the main ingredients.
Throughout the years, Louisiana has produced many different spice mixes that have become staples in local stores such as Tony Chachere's, Zatarains, and Slap Ya Mama. With the city's rich history of creative culinary talent, some of New Orleans' most famous local chefs ended up creating their own blend of spices and seasonings. The late and great Chef Paul Prudhomme created a large number of seasoning mixes, most of which are included on the Magic Seasoning Blends website. Some of the more popular seasoning mixes include the pasta and pizza mix, vegetable mix, seafood mix, and seasoning salt.
Another renowned chef of New Orleans, Chef Emeril Lagasse, famed for his work at Commander's Palace and for his Food Network Shows, also has his own share of spice mixes. The most well known product of his is Emeril's Original Essence Seasoning, which blends spices and herbs and can be used on different meats, vegetables, and pasta. Other mixes that Chef Lagasse has also put out include Cajun and Blackened.
Everyone has different tastes or cravings, so there are a number of local spice mixes to choose from: Louisiana Fish Fry, Joe's Stuff, Chef Gone Mad, Monster Creole Seasoning, River Road, and much more. If you want to try your own hand at a Cajun or Creole spice blend, experiment with the basics. Add or eliminate any spice you want. Just be creative and spice up your favorite dishes. You never know-you might just create some never before discovered flavor. Whether that flavor tastes good or not will be up for interpretation