This cookbook author found her love of food in Louisiana—and now she's sharing her favorite Cajun brunch recipe.
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Sunday brunch is one of those meals you look forward to all week. It can be sweet and simple or a multi-course soiree. In Leigh Ann Chatagnier’s case, it’s breakfast with a Cajun twist.
Leigh Ann first became interested in cooking with her mom, who was a “huge home cook” growing up in Tennessee. But after she met her husband and moved to Louisiana, she discovered Cajun food and immediately fell in love.
“To me, Cajun food is not just the recipe, it’s the experience,” Leigh Ann says. “It’s always about bringing loved ones together. Cajun culture in general is just very family-oriented and very welcoming.”
In her book Modern Cajun Cooking, she shares classic recipes like crawfish cake eggs Benedict and muffuletta sliders, as well as unexpected takes like Cajun tuna poke bowls and a satsuma Bundt cake. It also includes a recipe for pain perdu!
What Is Pain Perdu?
Pain perdu is French for “lost bread”. In New Orleans, it’s a twist on classic French toast, but with a splash of booze. Leigh Ann’s recipe calls for brandy, but you can use any dark liquor—like bourbon, whiskey or even dark rum.
Covering this satisfying bread with luxurious whipped cream and beautiful berries certainly makes for a wow-worthy dish, but pain perdu doesn’t need to be fancy.
“If you have leftover hot dog buns or hamburger buns, it makes really delicious pain perdu,” she says, “I call that a mom trick.”
How to Make New Orleans-Style Pain Perdu
courtesy Leigh Ann Chatagnier
This recipe is special to Leigh Ann because she discovered it during her wedding weekend. “We got married in New Orleans and this is a brunch item we had while we were there,” she says.
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
¼ cup brandy
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
8 thick-cut slices challah bread
¼ cup almonds, blanched and sliced
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup strawberries, sliced
Powdered sugar and maple syrup for serving
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Combine eggs, milk, sugar, brandy, vanilla and cinnamon. Pour mixture over bread in a large bowl and allow to soak for 10 minutes.
Place almond slices in a medium, flat bowl or on a large plate.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and let it melt.
Dip a piece of soaked bread into the almonds on one side, then place in the skillet, almond side down. Cook for 5-7 minutes on each side, turning when the first side is browned. Place on a baking sheet.
Repeat with the remaining 7 slices.
Bake all slices in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the custard is thoroughly cooked through.
Serve warm topped with fresh berries. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle with maple syrup, to taste.
Gumbo is one dish that makes Louisiana cuisine so famous. We live across the state line in Texas and can’t seem to get enough of this traditional Cajun dish that features okra, shrimp, spicy seasonings and the “holy trinity”—onions, green peppers and celery. This New Orleans recipe calls for seafood, but you could also use chicken, duck or sausage. —Ruth Aubey, San Antonio, Texas
Smoked turkey sausage and red pepper flakes add zip to this saucy, slow-cooked version of Louisiana red beans and rice. For extra heat, add red pepper sauce at the table. —Julia Bushree, Georgetown, Texas
I like to serve this Cajun sensation when I entertain. Etouffee is typically served with shellfish over rice and is similar to gumbo. This recipe has its roots in New Orleans and the bayou country of Louisiana. —Tamra Duncan, Lincoln, Arkansas
During chilly times of the year, I fix this slow-cooker jambalaya recipe at least once a month. It’s so easy—just chop the vegetables, dump everything in the slow cooker and forget it! Even my sons, who are picky about spicy things, like this easy jambalaya. —Cindi Coss, Coppell, Texas
I’ve been making this New Orleans recipe for at least 30 years. I’m originally from New Orleans, and I think it’s a nice taste of the Vieux Carre (French Quarter). Everyone who tastes this gumbo wants the recipe. It’s an old standby for my family, who requests it frequently. —Dolores M. Bridges, Danville, Kentucky
I'm not a big fish lover, so any concoction that has me loving fish is a "keeper" in my books. This combination of flavors just works for me. It's wonderful served with a nice buttery herb rice pilaf and corn muffins with butter and honey! —Kelly Williams, Forked River, New Jersey
Experimenting in the kitchen is a passion of mine...a passion I hope to pass along to my daughter. One day I had some scallops and decided to concoct a scallop cake instead of a crab cake. This scrumptious appetizer can be prepared ahead of time. The cakes and aioli sauce can both be made the day before, and you can cook the cakes just before serving. Not only does this simplify last-minute prep, it allows the flavors to blend, making the dish even more yummy. My family and friends love my specialty scallop cakes.—Iisha Leftrdige-Brooks, Sacramento, California
I've always loved beignets, but never thought I could make them myself. Turns out they're easy! Sometimes I'll even make a quick berry whipped cream and pipe it inside for a fun surprise. —Kathi Hemmer, Grand Junction, Colorado
My sister-in-law shared this recipe with me when I first moved to Louisiana. It's been handed down in my husband's family for generations. It's quick to prepare, nutritious and beautiful. I've passed it on to my children, too. —Ruby Williams, Bogalusa, Louisiana
This frosted king cake is the highlight of our annual Mardi Gras party. If you want to hide a token inside, do so by cutting a small slit in the bottom of the baked cake…and remember to warn your guests! —Lisa Mouton, Orlando, Florida
Here in New Orleans we have a lot of get-togethers, and if you want your dish to be chosen over all of the rest, it has to have a kick! This Cajun potato salad does the trick. —Amanda West, Sibley, Louisiana
We always have a large summer garden where lots of produce lingers into fall. That’s when we harvest our onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and eggplant—some key ingredients of this dish. This recipe turns Cajun with the holy trinity (onion, celery and bell pepper), shrimp and red pepper flakes. —Barbara Hahn, Park Hills, Missouri
I jazz up turkey Creole style with the trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery—plus a stuffing that gets hotter and hotter the longer it sits. Here's the difference between Cajun vs Creole. —Eric Olsson, Macomb, Michigan
A delightful and tasty rub makes this quick recipe fantastic. While the fish is sitting to allow the flavors to blend, you can easily assemble the salsa. My family loves this! —Laura Fisher, Westfield, Massachusetts
There’s plenty of sauce with these shrimp—I always have some bread on the side to soak it up. Make the dish your own by using your favorite amber beer or flavorful broth. —Mark Oppe, North Pole, Alaska
I love to share my cooking, and this hearty sheet-pan dinner has built a reputation for being tasty. People have actually approached me in public to ask for the recipe. —Laurie Sledge, Brandon, Mississippi
If you enjoy Creole and Cajun dishes, you'll love this one. The seasoning and andouille sausage give it a nice kick, and seafood fans will appreciate the shrimp. —Mary Beth Harris-Murphree, Tyler, Texas
Here's a regional favorite I grew to love after moving to the South. You'll never want black-eyed peas from a can again! Serve the dish as a side with grilled chicken...or make it your main course and round out the meal with greens and corn bread. —Tammie Merrill, Wake Forest, NC
A classic southern comfort food, this spread is used as an appetizer with crackers, corn chips or celery. It is also smeared between two slices of white bread for sandwiches and as a topping for hamburgers and hot dogs. —Eileen Balmer, South Bend, Indiana.
My mother received this peach cobbler recipe from a friend of hers many years ago, and fortunately she shared it with me. Boise is situated right between two large fruit-producing areas in our state, so peaches are plentiful in the summer. —Ruby Ewart, Boise, Idaho
I came up with these everything-in-one seafood packets for a family reunion, since the recipe can be increased to feed a bunch. The foil steams up inside, so open carefully. —Allison Brooks, Fort Collins, Colorado
I have wonderful memories of eating bananas Foster in New Orleans, and as a dietitian, wanted to find a healthier version. I combined the best of two recipes and added my own tweaks to create this southern treat. —Lisa Varner, Charleston, South Carolina
Cornbread is a staple of Cajun and Creole cuisine. This version is an old favorite, and it really tastes wonderful. I found this New Orleans recipe in the bottom of my recipe drawer. —Enid Hebert, Lafayette, Louisiana
When my fiance first made this chocolate bourbon pecan pie for me, I declared it to be the best pie ever! Creamy chocolate combines with crunchy nuts in a great, gooey filling. We can't get enough of this recipe inspired by New Orleans flavors. —Tanya Taylor, Cary, North Carolina
I found this New Orleans recipe years ago and substituted Cajun stewed tomatoes for a bolder taste. Now I prepare this dish for out-of-state guests who want to taste some Cajun food. Everyone who tries it gives it high marks. Plus, it's easy to prepare. —Sue Fontenot, Kinder, Louisiana
When I needed a party appetizer and couldn’t find a recipe I liked, I created my own inspired by New Orleans. This savory spread boasts the flavors of a classic muffuletta sandwich. —Helen Flamm, Dayton, Ohio
A southern specialty, sometimes called breakfast shrimp, this shrimp and grits recipe tastes fantastic for brunch or dinner, or anytime company’s coming. It’s down-home comfort food at its finest. —Mandy Rivers, Lexington, South Carolina