Lauren Groveman a recipe for delicious living

Crusty Cajun Tuna

(May 31, 2007)
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Bill asked Lauren:

Dear 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.

Lauren says...

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.

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Crusty Cajun Tuna

Yield: serves 6

cajun tuna

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.

    Special Equipment:

  • 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)
    Ingredients:

  • 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), for garnish

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

    Special Equipment:

  • Wide-mouth funnel
  • 1/2-pint jar with screw-top lid
    Ingredients:

  • 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.

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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 Amazon.com.

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 www.laurengroveman.com

Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.