The Original Cajun Food Fight: Black Pot or Magnalite?
Authentic Cajun cooking, much like any other regional food typically associated with working class rural areas, can really only be found in the homes of the Cajun people. Sure, there are “Cajun Restaurants,” but you won’t find some of the most common staples of Cajun cuisine being served in a traditional eatery, mostly due to the long, slow process of cooking cheaper cuts of meat.
If you want maw-maw’s round steak rice and gravy or Tante Marie’s Turtle Sauce Piquant, you have to enter the homes where these generational recipes have been passed down since the Acadian people settled in Louisiana. If the cornerstone of regional cooking is to take readily available cheap cuts of meat and cook them low and slow with seasonal vegetables and spices, the one thing you can count on is that there will be a heavy duty, well seasoned cast iron or aluminum pot at the heart of every Cajun meal. Many a Cajun would lay down their life over their favorite heirloom pot, here’s how you can tell the difference between the two.
Pro Tip: Our vote is to have one of each!
Magnalite cookware, made with a alloy of magnesium (hence the “Mag” in Magnalite) and aluminum, has been around since 1934. These pots are recognizable by their shiny finish, their oval shape, and their dutch oven style lid, which aids in basting foods with falling condensation that gathers inside the taller style lid. While this brand of cookware comes in several shapes and sizes, the pot Cajuns are most familiar with are the large, oval roasters.
Many Cajuns (author included) love this style of pot for braising meat for rice and gravy because of the larger surface area created by it’s oval shape. The long oval with straight sides usually allows you to balance the pot over two stovetop burners, letting you brown larger batches of meat at once without overcrowding. The other key difference is the aluminum cooking surface, which conducts heat more rapidly than a thicker style of black pot. Unlike black pots, these roasters do not need to be seasoned with oil, and they can be washed in regular soap and water.
Pro Tip: Many Magnalite owners notice a slight pitting that will occur over time in their pots, usually below the water line and on the bottom of the inside of the pot. This can be avoided by hand washing your pots, since the detergents used in dishwasher detergent can be corrosive and cause small holes (pits) to appear. These are safe, and do not change the flavor of the food, but to keep the original luster of your cookware, always hand wash with a gentle scrub and some regular dish soap.
Cast Iron/Black Pots
Cast iron cookware has been around almost as long as cooking itself! Even before the introduction of the home stove in the mid 1800’s, cooks around the planet used cast iron pots over an open flame because of its reliability, durability, ease of cleaning, and low cost. The Cajun people adopted the use of the black pot in Nova Scotia before they even came down to Louisiana to settle into what is now known as Cajun country.
Cast Iron pots, as the name suggests, are typically cast from a single mold, eliminating the need for further machining, manufacturing of screws, handles, or other parts, and tend to develop their own non-stick qualities if kept seasoned and cared for. While cast iron is a poor heat conductor compared to aluminum or copper, some people prefer it simply because it does not have to be watched over as carefully and presents less of a tendency to burn food than it’s heavy metal cousins.
Cajuns typically use cast iron frying pans to make cornbread and to deep fry seafood. Cast Iron dutch ovens are also very popular for home cookouts and at tailgates for their ease of cleanup and portability. One of the advantages to cast iron pots is that if you clean them quickly after using, little more than a damp cloth and a very small bit of soap are needed to clean away bits of food. The nonstick qualities of an old, well seasoned black pot help to make cleanup a breeze.
Pro Tip: If your pot ever dries out or begins to rust (which can be caused by leaving pots with water in them overnight or using too much dish soap), don’t worry. You can sand your pot down and re-season it using lard or vegetable oil and a little high temperature zap in the oven at 500 degrees for one hour.
No matter which type of pot you cook with, you are guaranteed to have a good meal if you follow the recipe, and remember the golden rule of Cajun Cooking…First, you get a beer