Archive | May, 2017

Cajun. Ah Gha-rawn-tee!

11 May

Like a ghost from the past, Cajun chef Justin Wilson lives on, laughing and wandering the endless hallways of YouTube. His 1980s Cookin’ Cajun episodes from PBS are well worth squandering your free time.

As kids, we thought he was pretty hilarious. The New Orleans patois: Awn-yawn! That red string tie! Those matching suspenders. What a kook.

Gumbo. Jambalaya. Red beans and dirty rice. Hush puppies. Pralines. It was all so exotic compared to our WASPy facsimile of cut up hot dogs sauteed with onion and crushed tomato sauce, Worchestershire and scant red pepper flakes, served over steamed white rice.

More refined was chef Paul Prudhomme, clad in his head-to-corpulent-toe chef whites. His Cajun blackening craze was everywhere by this point. Blackened red snapper, anyone? Get that pan smoking hot, flip the hood fan and for god’s sake, don’t breathe in!

Decoding blackening spice pre-internet era was a labour. Long before Emeril was hawking his Essence, you had to make your own. It didn’t take long for Cajun chicken Caesar salad to find a home on every chain restaurant menu. Even our beloved 1980s-era Seventeen Magazine took a crack at jambalaya. Cajun- and Creole- inspired cuisine charged throughout the 2000s with chicken pasta dishes that were parmesan creamy, spicy and loaded with veggies: slivered onion, slices of rainbow coloured bell peppers.

Cajun refuses to go away. We can’t think of anything more fitting than a sophisticated Louisana remoulade to enjoy with some shrimp or crab cakes while relaxing on deck with something cool.

Just yesterday, we spotted this:


Earls restaurant chain has steadfastly kept Cajun blackened chicken breasts on its menu for decades.


You can see by the amount of paprika in their recipe, they’ve toned down the pepper’s kick. Paul Prudhomme would never stand for it. And you just know Justin eschewed black pepper for his love of the scorching cayenne: “That’s much more better. Ah gah-rawn-tee!”

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

12 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cayenne

34 teaspoon white pepper

34  teaspoon black pepper

12 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

12 teaspoon dried oregano leaves


4 (5-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup blackening spice (recommended: Paul Prudhomme’s Chicken)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup roughly chopped marinated sun-dried tomatoes

1/4 cup white wine

3 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound cooked fettuccine

1/2 cup sliced scallions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Dredge the chicken breasts in the blackening spice and place in a cast iron skillet over very high heat. Blacken both sides of the chicken and place in the oven for 10 minutes, or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.

Slice in strips on the bias and set aside.

In a saute pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add garlic and lightly caramelize.

Then add the sun-dried tomatoes and the chicken slices. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add the heavy cream, increase the heat to a simmer, and reduce the cream sauce by half. When the cream sauce is to desired consistency, stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan, salt, pepper, and pasta.

Plate and add with scallions and the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.

Behold: al Pastor

8 May

Thank you Cinco de Mayo for being the perfect excuse to tinker with tacos.

We’ve been researching al pastor since gorging on them from a charming beach cantina. There is no shortage of sad online recipes (mostly involving slow cookers) but this winner is the closest to mimicking what makes al pastor so amazing minus the enormous rotisserie.

The trick is slicing the meat thinly into pieces about 3-inches-by-3-inches, and ¼-inch thick. Thread onto two parallel skewers to hold in place, packing tightly so there are no gaps (you’ll have enough to make three rows using six skewers.) Then it goes into a 250 degree oven for two to three hours.

And then you get this: succulent, chili-coated pork with crunchy bits and roasted pineapple to sweeten the deal.

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Start two days before by whizzing up this amazing marinade of guajillo chilies, garlic, avocado leaves, achiote paste, cumin, thyme, cinnamon, black pepper, kosher salt, apple cider vinegar and chicken stock.

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It makes enough to thickly coat 3 lbs of sliced pork shoulder.

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Perfect for threading onto these fantastic double-prong skewers from Lee Valley. We let these marinate for 48 hours.

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Then it’s time to set them on thick slices of pineapple and slow roast for two to three hours. The pineapple juices do their part to make this unforgettable.

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Don’t forget to flip these a few times to make sure everything gets covered in the juices while cooking.

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We scored some adorable mini flour tortillas to go with our favourite handmade mini corn tortillas from the Latin market. Bonus: they were selling queso fresco, so we grated some of that to go with chopped white onion.


And here’s the spread, along with a molcajete brimming with guacamole and our favourite desert rose tortilla chip and refried bean dip (thank you Phoenix circa 1982).

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We are happy to report this recipe is another bulletproof keeper, just like our favourite carnitas recipe.

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder
2 dried guajillo chilies, stems and seeds removed
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 dried avocado leaves (found at Latin market but still not sure they’re necessary)
1/4 cup achiote paste (we’ve cut way back on this amount)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (will try a smidge less)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 pineapple
12 corn tortillas, warmed (or a stockpile of mini corn and flour tortillas)

ADDENDUM: Rick Bayless version:

A 3 ½ ounce package achiote marinade

3 canned canned chipotle chile en adobo plus 4 tablespoons of the canning sauce

¼ cup vegetable or olive oil, plus a little more for the onion and pineapple

1 ½ pounds thin-sliced pork shoulder (about 1/4 inch)


1 medium red onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick

¼ of a medium pineapple, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds

In a blender, combine the achiote, chiles, canning sauce, oil and ¾ cup water.  Blend into a smooth marinade.   With a heavy mallet pound the meat to about 1/8-inch thick.  Use 1/3 of the marinade to smear over both sides of each piece of meat and sprinkle with salt. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour for the flavor to penetrate the meat.  (In a container with a tight-fitting lid, refrigerate the rest of the marinade for another use.)

Heat a gas grill to medium-high to high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the coals are covered with gray ash and are very hot.  Brush or spray both sides of the onion and pineapple with oil.  Grill, turning regularly for several minutes, until they are richly colored and softening—you want them to still have nice texture. Cut the core out of the pineapple, then chop the onions and the tender pineapple into small pieces. Keep warm on the side of the grill.

Grill the meat on the very hot grill, cooking it only on one side to duplicate the delicious crusty char everyone associates with tacos al pastor.  When the meat is cooked, which should take about a minute, cut it into short thin slices.

From Gabriela Camara:

For the Adobo Rojo de Chiles sauce:

Makes about 760g

30g chile cascabel, destemmed and seeded

12g chile ancho, destemmed and seeded 9g chile guajillo, destemmed and seeded 9g chile pasilla, destemmed and seeded 1g chile de árbol, destemmed and seeded 450g roma tomatoes, roughly chopped 70g white onion, roughly chopped

12g garlic cloves, roughly chopped 3g achiote paste
12g freshly squeezed orange juice 36g grapeseed oil

Pinch of cumin
Pinch of oregano
18g sea salt, plus more for seasoning

For the pork:

910g to 1.4kg pork tenderloin, cut into bite-size pieces
240ml Adobo Rojo de Chiles
17g sea salt
10g grapeseed oil

For the pineapple:

1 large pineapple
35g unsalted butter
0.5g sea salt

To assemble:

8 corn tortillas
100g white onion, nely minced
10g cilantro leaves, minced
Lime wedges, for serving
250g Salsa Verde Cruda

Make the Adobo Rojo de Chiles sauce: If possible, turn on the exhaust fan above your stove or open a window before toasting your chiles. Heat a large nonstick pan or clay comal over medium-high heat. Cook the chiles in the dry pan or on the dry comal, ipping once, until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Put the toasted chiles in a blender. Add the tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Place the achiote paste in a small bowl. Slice the orange in half and squeeze one half into the achiote paste. Stir to combine. Add the mixture to the blender, along with the juice from the other half of the orange. Add the grapeseed oil, cumin, and oregano. Blend on high until the sauce is thick but smooth, about 1 minute. Add salt to taste.

Marinate the pork: Place pork in a large mixing bowl. Add 3 table- spoons of the adobo sauce to the bowl and mix well to combine. Cover the pork and allow it to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Place the remaining adobo sauce in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three weeks. (The extra adobo sauce can be used to marinate other meats, sh, and/or vegetables.)

Cook the pineapple: With a very sharp knife, trim the top and bottom off the pineapple so it can stand up straight. Peel the pineapple by cutting the skin off in strips. Once all the skin has been removed, slice the fruit in half lengthwise. Set half aside. Slice the remaining half lengthwise once more, and set one quarter aside. Cut the brous heart out of the pineapple and discard. Lay the pine- apple at across the cutting board and slice into wedges lengthwise, then cut each wedge into bite-size chunks.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the pine- apple, a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often to avoid burning, until pineapple is slightly softened and translucent and all butter is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.



Cook the pork: Season the pork with additional salt before cooking. In a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high, heat the oil
until shimmering. Add the pork, decrease heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until meat is cooked through and most of the marinade has cooked off, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Assemble: Heat a nonstick skillet or clay comal over medium heat. Reheat the tortillas for a few seconds on each side. Fill each tortilla with a few spoonfuls of warm pork and 3 pieces of warm pineapple.

Top with minced white onion and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and Salsa Verde Cruda.