I can’t remember, exactly, at what point I started getting sick of French food.
You wouldn’t think it possible – I certainly didn’t when I first moved here and most of my meals consisted of “floor picnics” with cheese, bread, pâté, and pickles. But after a while, you start craving other things. For me, this manifested in seeking out things with spice: Chinese, Mexican, Indian food. Unfortunately, the best I could get my hands on in 2007 was the pho in Belleville seasoned liberally with sriracha (or, as a kind Vietnamese gentleman in my favorite cantine called it, Asian ketchup.)
It was at this point that I started to experiment with making these dishes at home: I concocted, for example, a pretty killer spicy Asian slaw that I used to make by the gallon and keep in the fridge for random afternoon snacking. When I was still young and poor enough to throw BYOB parties (believe me, I wasn’t the only one), I always sweetened the deal by making Mexican food for everyone around midnight: spiced ground beef, homemade refried beans, jalapeño-spiked guacamole, and lots and lots of tortilla chips.
Of course, the culinary landscape of Paris has changed in the past ten years. Alongside the brasseries and bistros, we now have phenomenal Korean food, pretty good Mexican, and lots of excellent fusion small plates from the host of international chefs who have arrived on the culinary scene in the past few years. I even found some Indian food I don’t hate not far from Gare du Nord (there’s still too much cream in the vindaloo, but hey, that’s what the Eurostar is for).
But more than that, I’ve finally learned how to cater to my own craving for spice at home, with dishes like this. I won’t claim this is authentically Cajun (claiming that recipes are authentic is problematic to me from the get-go, but that’s another conversation entirely), but it does what I’m asking for, and for that I’m grateful.
Long-time readers of this blog might notice that a similar recipe has appeared on the site before: I developed this dairy-free version due to my current paleo leanings, and I think it’s just as good, if not better than the original.
Mock Maque Choux
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 green onions, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 fresh tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 hefty pinch cayenne pepper
2 cups of canned corn, or 3 ears of corn (kernels removed with a knife and corn milk removed by scraping the knife along the cob, all in the same receptacle)
1 tsp. dried thyme
salt to taste
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and add the onion and bell pepper with a hefty pinch of salt. Sauté until the vegetables have softened and the onion begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomato, garlic, and cayenne. Stir until the garlic becomes fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the corn. If you’re using canned corn, you can add a bit of water as well. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove about a half cup of the corn from the pan. Add a few tablespoons of water, and purée the corn until it’s smooth. Add it back to the pan and stir it in, along with the thyme. Cook, uncovered (if necessary) until the additional liquid has evaporated off.
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 hefty pinch salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
2 fillets (about 8 ounces total) white fish like cod or whiting
2 tsp. olive oil
1 glass (1/2 cup) white wine or water
Combine the spices in a bowl.
Pat the fillets dry, then sprinkle one side with half of the spice mixture.
Heat the oil over high heat in a skillet. Add the fish fillets, spice side down. Coat the other side with the spice mixture. Cook about 2 minutes per side, or more if you have thicker fillets. Remove the fish to a dish and cover to keep warm.
Deglaze the pan with wine and stir, picking up the bits of spice at the bottom of the pan. Allow the wine (or water) to reduce by half.
Serve the fish fillets over a mound of maque choux. Serve the sauce on the side, or drizzle it over the final dish.