By Shan O’Connor:
Welcome back, readers. It’s been awhile, and I find the view of the world outside my kitchen window changed since last we had a visit. I see deserted streets as the folks in my neighborhood quarantine in their homes due to the COVID-19 virus that’s sweeping the nation. From my seat at the table, I also see on the news crowds of people, some of them my neighbors perhaps, protesting and calling for change against racial injustice.
I speak of my actual kitchen of course, but returning guests will remember from my introduction that here in my virtual kitchen, we serve up delicious food, prepared with ecologically friendly ingredients and various grocery products and kitchen gadgets that are big on practicality and sustainability but easy on the pocketbook. Whether you have been here before or are new, all are welcome.
I’ve stated before that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Around the kitchen table or over a hot stove, traditions are honored and shared in the form of recipes handed down from previous generations. The origins of those recipes and traditions are taught over boiling pots and simmering skillets.
My tip for you this segment is as follows:
It is important to know and understand, both from a cultural and sustainability standpoint, where our food comes from and how and where cooking techniques and ingredients we use today originated.
This knowledge paints a picture of our ancestry and heritage and can give us a new appreciation for the rich history and diversity found within it. Being originally from the state of Louisiana and of Cajun descent, I can think of no better example of this than Cajun and Creole Cuisine.
By now, most are at least somewhat familiar with these foods and dishes. When it’s spoken of, images of Gumbo, Po-Boy’s, Jambalaya, and Crawfish no doubt spring to mind, as they are favorite dishes of natives and visitors to Louisiana alike. The origins of both, however, are not as well known.
“Cajun” describes “Les Acadians,” French Colonists forced from their homes in Acadia, Canada. They settled in Louisiana and made it their home, bringing unique music, sausages (popular in the cuisine to this day), and their version of the French “mirepoix,” which is a blend of vegetables making up the base of most Cajun dishes known as “The Holy Trinity.” This blend consists of diced yellow or white onion, green bell pepper, and celery.
“Creole” refers to the various cultures of New Orleans, including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese. Both the Acadians and other immigrants arrived in New Orleans in the 17th century, when it became a major port. This also marked the introduction of slavery in Louisiana. Throughout that period, many of the famous and beloved dishes enjoyed today were created by the Acadians and the hands of enslaved cooks. Their experience and knowledge of utilizing certain spices, okra, and techniques for making broths and sauces influenced the culinary delights the state is known for. The contributions made by these ethnic groups, particularly African-Americans, cannot be overstated. We honor their sacrifices by recognition of those contributions, speaking truth to history, and showing appreciation. These discussions are not always easy, but they must be had. We must be willing to talk about and remember our history so that we may learn from it. Food can connect us by helping us to learn from one another, allowing us to share our culture and celebrate the many different things each of us can both literally and figuratively bring to the table.
On that note, today’s recipe celebrates the influence spoken of here with spices and technique. It is a personal favorite Cajun meal in my home, made with sustainable ingredients such as organic spices ( I use Simply Organic, which is available in most stores), vegetables, and sustainable farmed catfish filets to make Blackened Catfish Filets served with lemon roasted asparagus.
Both the asparagus and fish for this dish will cook quickly, each taking only 8–10 minutes of cook time, which makes it ideal for a delicious and healthy weeknight meal.
We begin by making the “Blackened” seasoning. This seasoning blend can be made ahead of time and kept in an airtight container for up to three months. “Blackening” refers to the cooking technique we’ll be using, though it’s commonly mistaken for the seasoning only. It simply means that we will be coating our fish in vegan butter or margarine before cooking on medium-high heat, preferably in a cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one, you may use a non-stick skillet.
2 tbsp. organic paprika
1 1/2 tsp. organic cayenne (or more to taste—you may adjust the heat to your liking)
½ tsp. Cajun Seasoning Blend ( I use Slap Ya Mama)
1 tbsp. organic onion powder
1 tbsp. organic garlic powder
1 tsp. iodized sea salt
1 tbsp organic Italian seasoning blend
Mix all until well combined, and then set aside or store in your container.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees in preparation for the next step, which is the asparagus. You may also begin preheating your skillet in preparation for the fish by placing it on a medium-high heat at this time (for an electric stove, this would be a setting of 8).
Lemon Roasted Asparagus:
1 bunch (approx. 1 lb) trimmed and washed organic asparagus
2 tbsp extra virgin organic olive oil
1 tbsp. organic garlic salt with parsley
1 organic lemon, sliced thinly into rounds
½ tsp iodized sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Line a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with a piece of parchment paper. Arrange your asparagus in a single layer on the paper. Drizzle with olive oil, gently coat, and add all spices, tossing evenly to coat. Place lemon slices on top of the asparagus, keeping the slices evenly dispersed. Set a timer and roast for 8–10 minutes.
4 (5 oz.) Catfish filets
2 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
Brush each filet on both sides evenly with your butter. Coat each piece evenly with your reserved Blackening Seasoning mixture. Place in your pre-heated cast iron skillet. Cook approximately 3 to four minutes each side, using a thin spatula to prevent tearing or breaking the filet. Remove from heat, serve with additional lemon wedge if desired.
Thank you all for joining me once again in my virtual kitchen. I hope you enjoyed this bit of history on Louisiana cuisine and this recipe celebrating its diversity and culture. Until next time, now more than ever . . . to your good health!
Shan O'Connor is an American freelance writer hailing from southern Louisiana and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. She is an environmental and political activist who enjoys sustainable cooking, H.E.M.A. combat and sword training, and all things literary with a passion for fantasy/horror fiction.