The State of Louisiana is home to some of the best food to be had in North America. Their spicy gumbos, hearty jambalayas, and piquant sauces are enough to satisfy even the most demanding palates. Since the 1970s, Cajun cuisine has enjoyed a growing popularity. One of the most popular recipes that people look for is the ubiquitous “Cajun Chicken”, or instructions for how to make Cajun Chicken.
I say ‘ubiquitous’ because there is actually no one particular traditional recipe for a specific dish called Cajun Chicken. There are dozens of recipes that claim to be ‘Cajun Chicken’, and every one of them is a very different dish. There are even recipes on the internet claiming to be ‘Cajun Chicken’ that involve the use of pasta (uuuuggghhhh!!!)
Cajun chicken recipes flood the internet, and few of them actually represent true Cajun cuisine. One good way to test a recipe for Cajun authenticity is that it will start out with the words “First you make a roux…”. That is a slight exaggeration, but not by much. The other defining characteristic will be the use of rice. A true Cajun cook will put on some rice, then ask you what you want to eat. Once you get the roux and rice down, you are 75% on the way to knowing how to make Cajun chicken (or Cajun anything for that matter).
Cajun cuisine evolved from many years of deprivation and desperation. Run out of their homes and country by the British after the French and Indian War, the French Acadians of Nova Scotia, and nearby areas made their way across the country to the Spanish and French colonies in what is now Louisiana. They became the Cajuns, to distinguish them from the indigenous Creoles, in a multi-tiered caste system. At that time, the area was little more than a wilderness, and a third-rate agricultural experiment. The Cajuns, mostly trappers, hunters and scouts, preferred to shy away from the upper-class Creole, and European aristocrat/immigrant dominated cities. They settled in the swamps, bayous and forests of Southern Louisiana.
Due to a scarcity of many things, the Cajuns, forced to adapt their French recipes to what was available, had to make roux from oil and flour, rather than the French traditional butter, cream and flour, and bisques without cream. This is the heart of Cajun cuisine, a culinary rebellious act, and an in-your-face gustatory statement of defiance. All authentic Cajun recipes reflect this character.
Although rice is a staple of both Cajun and Creole cooking, it was not originally a part of their diet, as rice was not cultivated in Louisiana until the mid-19th century. Today, however, it is difficult to imagine a modern Cajun dish with out rice somewhere nearby.
The closest thing to a single Cajun Chicken recipe is this one for a baked chicken, served during Mardi Gras, and sometimes on Sundays.
Cajun Baked Chicken
1 large roasting chicken
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp onion powder, or onion juice
1.2 tsp dried crushed thyme
¼ tsp garlic powder or garlic juice
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ black pepper
¼ Cayenne or red pepper
Preheat oven to 375°F. Rinse chicken well under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry. Place chicken in a roasting pan, breast-side down. Brush the chicken with the milk.
In a separate bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients together evenly, and rub the entire chicken inside and out with it. Use it all.
Bake the chicken uncovered for approximately 1 hour, checking often. Flip the chicken over after 30 minutes. The chicken is done when the internal temperature is 180°F. Allow the chicken to set for 10 minutes or so before serving, to allow the juices to settle down.
There are many other recipes that could be classified as ‘Cajun Chicken’ recipes. This is one of my favorites:
3-1/2 to 5 pounds chicken pieces
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 medium onion, sliced
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, juice and all
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp parsley
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp McKillhenny’s Tabasco Sauce
¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Bay Leaf
Lots of hot cooked rice….
In a large skillet, melt butter over med-high heat. Add chicken pieces and sautéed until they are golden brown on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside.
Add onion garlic and onion to the chicken drippings and sauté until translucent. Blend in flour a little at a time and stir until smooth.
Remove skillet from heat and add tomatoes, parsley, thyme, Bay Leaf, salt, Tabasco and cayenne pepper. Add chicken pieces and return the skillet to heat. Cook for 20 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add green and red bell peppers and continue to cook for around 30 minutes, or until chicken is tender and done. Serve with hot rice.
You could conceivably make any kind of chicken a ‘Cajun Chicken’ simply by adding a Cajun spice mix to it. There are several commercial blends marketed as “Cajun Spice’, but many of these contain MSG, which I avoid like the plague. I make my own Cajun spice mix. Use it wherever Cajun Spice is called for.
Cajun Spice Mix
1-1/2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
½ tsp mace
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp white pepper
1 Bay Leaf
Use an electric coffee grinder to grind all ingredients and mix well. Place in an airtight spice bottle.
Remember to always wash chicken thoroughly inside and out before using, and keep the chicken cold until you are ready to use it. Always cook chicken to an internal temperature of 180 degrees (or 165 for smoked chicken).
Now you know how to make Cajun chicken. Put on some Zydeco music, crack open a bottle of Grüner Veltliner, and enjoy…