Amelia Durand, originally from Mansura (and I’m pretty sure now the communications director with a winery in California) is featured on the Food Network series Barefoot Contessa.
The episode entitled “Cooking with Rice” features Durand’s family recipe for Jambalaya. It’s nice to see the Central Louisiana version of this Louisiana favorite getting some good press. Durand is the daughter of the former Mayor of Mansura and her family owns and operates Durand’s Food Center (by the way, if you’ve never explored on a short road trip, probably the best hog’s head cheese and boudin can be found around Mansura — I recommend Lonas Kelong’s (Kelong’s Grocery on Main Street), Juneau’s Specialty meats (expensive but good – across from the Casino), and T-Jin’s in Cottonport (especially for Hog’s Head Cheese — but call first before making the drive as they don’t make it everyday).
In case you didn’t know, the CenLa versions of most traditional Louisiana foods are quite different from the South Louisiana and New Orleans versions. There are a couple of reasons for this. First is the type of terrain. When it comes to a combination of growing vegetables, grazing livestock, and fishing and hunting, Central Louisiana has about the best land and weather in the entire state. This means the people who settled here had access to considerably more ingredients than their cousins in the swamp. Also, even though various Louisiana staples can be traced to either Cajun or Creole or Isleño (look it up) roots, the versions we know today are rarely the original pure forms. Also, many of them like Gumbo and Jambalaya were sort of accidental to begin with. You actually find Jambalaya in many cultures (as fried rice in Asia, as Paella in Spain and Latin America, and as various regional varieties in France). It was simply a way to stretch leftovers and the various bits and pieces left in the pantry. Poor food. Interestingly, the word boudin in much of France actually refers to any food (often in a casing like ours) in which leftovers are mixed with rice and recooked.
Our native Central Louisiana versions of things like Jambalaya, Gumbo, e’touffe (it means ‘of the pot’ basically Cajun French for stew), creole, boudin, etc are really about the earliest example of ‘Fusion Cuisine’ you can find. We were a hundred years ahead of the popularity curve on this one (sorry Emeril). CenLa food is like CenLa culture and CenLa highways. It’s a mix of everything that makes Louisiana great. Our cuisine has its roots in the Prairie Cajun traditions of northern Acadiana, the Appalachian country food of North Louisiana (remember the area above Alexandria and Natchitoches was settled almost entirely by free land programs the US government instituted to bring in “Americans” from Kentucky and Tennessee to balance out the French/Spanish/Catholic established population of the state whom they feared would rebel), traditional planter cuisine from Mississippi, a bit of Texas, some traditional New Orleans Bourbon cooking (especially around Alexandria and remember New Orleans french settlers (many of whom first came our way) were not Cajuns and were in fact from an entirely different region of France), and of course some good local soul food from our black residents. It’s a big mix, a lot of people and cultures, and a lot of flavors. But that, is what CenLA is all about, and that’s wonderful fusion that is our Louisiana Cuisine.
Certainly the differences aren’t huge. The main thing is we use more and usually better (perhaps I should say, more expensive or what would have been considered better way back when simply due to the higher availability of culinary resources in the region) ingredients. And, it’s usually spicy (as in having lots of spices in it) yet not overwhelmingly hot and peppery (which tends to be the predominant spice in the Lafayette and Baton Rouge versions because pepper was a sturdy cheaper spice that everyone could keep back then). The New Orleans influence usually means more vegetables and a more neutral roux or butter base. And, our African influences generally mean that you’ll find considerably more okra (Gumbo actually is Senegalese for ‘okra’, so gumbo was originally any soup with okra in it), and more usage of meats like chicken livers and other organ meats from cattle and swine (the biggest difference between CenLa boudin and South Louisiana versions is the presence of liver in ours).
Well, check out the show if you see it. Head down Highway 1 and taste your way around Avoyelles, and stop by Durand’s (I’m going to next time I get the chance. I’ve never had anything from there.). Amelia’s recipe is in the link below: