Sunday, May 3, 2009

Red Hot and Romantic Cajun Spice

When my soon-to-be husband, Wesley, and I had our first date two and a half years ago, one of the first things he boasted about was his signature dish, Blackened Cajun Chicken. He cautioned me that he knew few people whose palates could withstand the heat of his proprietary blend. I assured him that my ability to withstand the scoville units wouldn't be a problem. I mean, hey, I've been traveling with a purse bottle of Sriracha since I first discovered it 15 years ago. Not really, but I've thought about it. I do, however, collect hot sauces like some women collect purses.

About a month later, only a month and a half into our relationship, Wesley cranked up the heat by inviting me to come home with him for a few days before Christmas. What choice did I have but to accept his gracious invitation. Two weeks later, on December 21, 2006, I found myself disembarking at the Jet Blue gate at Syracuse Airport. I remember the date because it was my 35th birthday. Ten minutes later, I met my soon-to-be mother- and father-in-law, Judy and Dick Dunaway, and an hour after that, we pulled into their driveway in Fair Haven, New York, an idyllic upstate New York village nestled on the banks of Lake Ontario. I spent the next three days in cozy comfort, meeting Wes's childhood best friends, eating Judy's comfort cuisine, drinking Dick's vodka gimlets, and falling asleep in my favorite way possible, to the sound of the television in the background.

On my last morning in Fair Haven, Wes trotted up the stairs to our room and presented me with a gift from Judy, a copy of the Fair Haven Church's cookbook, Recipes and Remembrances. This snappy little spiral bound cookbook, a nostalgic reminder of my first visit to Fair Haven, features hometown favorites like Dick's Pot Roast Braised in Red Wine and another of Wes's favorites, Judy's Chicken Francaise. Most important, however, nestled in the the cookbook's glossy pages, lucky readers can feast their eyes on Wes's Blackened Cajun Chicken recipe–in print.

While waiting for my plane in the airport, I cracked the cookbook for the first time. It immediately struck me that the recipe wasn't necessarily Wes's, but his favorite recipe of Judy's, submitted in his honor. I think that what tipped me off was the use of the word dredge in reference to coating the chicken with the seasonings. I almost peed my pants thinking of Wes sitting at his computer, White Stripes in the background, consciously using the word dredge in reference to his chicken. Either way, the visit, the cookbook, and the subtle gesture intimated by the recipe sealed my fate. I was in love.

Of course, it wasn't for another year that Wes actually prepared his Blackened Cajun Chicken. And, of course, as of this writing, I haven't actually eaten Wes's Blackened Cajun Chicken per se. However, I have dredged tofu in his Cajun seasoning, sprinkled it into a skillet with my zucchini saute, and, as readers of this blog know, perfected the mashed sweet potatoes in my empanadas by stirring in a tablespoonful on a whim.

I highly suggest that you concoct a batch of this seasoning, store it in your spice rack, and throw it in your next dish that needs a little spike. It's a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons lemon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons basil

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