a recipe for delicious living
Crusty Cajun Tuna
(May 31, 2007)
...submit your question to Lauren!
Bill asked Lauren:
I LOVE fish that's labeled "Cajun" style (sometimes called "blackened")
and I order it a lot when eating out at restaurants. I would really like
to make this at home, but I'm a bit afraid that the spice blends sold in
the supermarket might be too fiery-tasting for my kids and wife who all
claim to dislike spicy food. Is there a way to make a dry mix that I could
use, that wouldn't be too spicy for them, but that I can "kick it up"
as that guy on TV would say, since I like mine on the hot side? Thought
I would ask. By the way, love your column.
Jon and I love spicy foods and, like you, when the kids were little we
wanted to expose them to heightened flavors without blowing their doors
off. So, I concocted a "Cajun" spice blend that I first used to season
fresh tuna and swordfish. Well, it was such a hit that now I also use
it on chicken!
Yes, you can certainly whisk up a delicious seasoning blend that suits
your family's current tentativeness with spicy flavors (that's one of
the real benefits of home-cooking)! Any type of pepper listed in any spice
rub recipe that contains varying degrees of capsaicin (heat) can be reduced
or omitted entirely. This especially includes cayenne, hot paprika and
other ground chili peppers (whether a Mexican blend or any other singular
type). Since ground chilies are usually red, to make up for any color
loss (which would affect the savory "blackened" look of the finished dish,
use more sweet paprika. Black pepper is also a good way to get a dimensional
flavor without overwhelming the palette with heat. You can add some of
the hot stuff to your portion when applying the seasoning (just remember
which one is yours!).
Truth be told, although my Cajun Tuna, which uses my
homemade spice blend, has all sorts of things in it that would be considered
"hot," my kids have loved it from the start. Having said this, you should
feel free to alter my concoction as you wish.
Crusty Cajun Tuna
Yield: serves 6
When creating this recipe (years ago) for my family, I initially worried
that the combination of seafood and Cajun wouldn't appeal to my children.
But I took a chance. As the fish was cooking, each of my three kids strolled
into the kitchen with their nostrils quivering to ask "What smells so
good?" At dinner that night, my son Ben who was ten at the time (for the
first time) ate an entire eight ounces of fish. Needless to say, dinner
was a big hit with everyone. Although this recipe is written with tuna
in mind, don't hesitate to substitute another firm fish such as swordfish,
salmon, halibut or bluefish. In addition, jumbo shrimp (still in their
shells), seasoned this way and skewered through the body and tail before
either grilling or broiling are terrific. Also, my
Cajun Spice Blend is
equally enhancing to boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see the written
variation). As far as picking one "way" of cooking that's best, it's hard
not to get a great result, whether cooking in or outside. The only exception
to this is that, while broiling is fine, I don't recommend using a stove-top
grill pan when cooking fish indoors as this leaves a strong fishy scent
lingering throughout the house for days. Cooking chicken this way is wonderful,
though. Any time I've suggested a tool, a piece of equipment, or a culinary
term that's unfamiliar to you, you can go to
Kitchen Management to get more information.
- Indoor or outdoor grilling device or broiler pan
- Long tongs, if using an outdoor grill
- Long perforated metal spatula with wooden handle, for turning fish on the grill
- Stove-top grill pan (only if using the chicken variation)
- 2/3 cup
aromatic peanut oil or extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
- 4 or 5 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
- 6 tuna steaks (about 8 ounces each for adults or 4 to 6 ounces per child),
sliced ¾-to 1-inch thick
- Not-Too-Hot Cajun Spice Blend (see following recipe), for seasoning the fish
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Flavorless vegetable oil, for the grill
- 1 to 2 juicy lemons, at room temperature, cut into wedges (see following tip),
1) To prepare garlic oil: Heat 2/3 cup
oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When just hot, reduce heat to
low, add minced garlic and sauté until just softened and fragrant, 30
seconds to 1 minute. Set aside to cool.
2) To prepare the fish: Line a large baking sheet with
waxed paper. Rinse steaks, pat dry and lay in a single layer on the prepared
sheet. Sprinkle steaks liberally with Cajun Spice Blend and, using a pastry
brush; paint each side of steaks generously with some of the garlic oil.
Grind on some fresh black pepper and let sit at room temperature for 10
minutes or cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
3) To grill or broil: Before heating grill, brush it
well with peanut oil or spray with cooking spray. Heat grill or coals
to hot and, just before place the seasoned fish on the hot grill, dip
an old kitchen towel into some vegetable oil and, holding the towel with
long tongs, swab the hot grill grate with the oil. Let the oiled surface
get hot, and then place the seasoned fish on the grate. Cook each steak
8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness, turning once, basting with remaining
garlic mixture. When done (for medium-rare), the fish will be beautifully
seared on the outside, and the flesh still retain some deep pink color.
Avoid overcooking or the fish will be dry. To broil, preheat broiler to
very hot, place fish on a cold broiler pan and broil very close to the
heat source, 4 to 5 minutes. Then baste, turn and continue broiling until
golden, crisp but not dry, another 4 to 5 minutes.
Variation with Chicken
For the fish, substitute 6 halved, skinless, boneless chicken breasts that have been butterflied and flattened between sheets of waxed paper. Season as directed in tuna recipe and grill as described reducing the cooking time as needed, so the chicken remains succulent. Place them on a cold broiler pan under a preheated broiler 4 to 5 inches from the heat source, turning once until golden, blistered and cooked throughout. You can also cook the chicken on a hot stove-top grill pan (use your exhaust fan). Either way, baste the chicken occasionally, being careful not to overcook which leaves it dry.
Not Too Hot …Cajun Spice Blend
Yield: about 1 cup
- Wide-mouth funnel
- 1/2-pint jar with screw-top lid
- ¼ cup onion powder (not onion salt)
- ¼ cup garlic powder (not garlic salt)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl
using a whisk. Insert the stem of a wide mouth funnel over the opening
of a 1/2-pint jar and spoon in the spice mixture. Label, date and store
in a cool, dark cupboard away from direct sun to preserve freshness.
Questions for Lauren Groveman's Kitchen:
Lauren Groveman recipes have been featured
in many national magazines and local newspapers. Her books "The
I love to Cook Book: Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking for Family and Friends"
and "Lauren Groveman's Kitchen, Nurturing Food
for Family and Friends" are available through
For in depth information on Lauren Groveman as a writer, teacher, TV &
radio host, as well as her recipes and cooking tips visit her website at
Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and
blessed with three wonderful children.