Many types of today's popular Cajun food adapt very well to microwaving. The strong, vibrant flavors of this cuisine--especially the entrees--depend on fresh foods seasoned with hot spices that are blended with the food through cooking. Typically, three kinds of pepper are added to meat and fish dishes to achieve the right balance of pepper flavor. As one Cajun authority said, "Each kind of pepper excites a different part of the mouth."
Because it is generally a time-saving way to cook, microwaving often preserves more natural flavors of foods than conventional cookery. Microwaved meats stay fresh and moist, and spices and herbs don't cook away.
Also, some microwaving techniques make Cajun cooking even easier. For example, there's less stirring when microwaving the roux for a hot peppery gumbo like the one below. This is because the microwave oven cooks food from all sides, rather than just from the bottom, so there's less chance of the roux sticking and burning on the bottom.
Cajun desserts, which are often spiked with sweet cinnamon or nutmeg, are usually creamy and rich in contrast to the sharp and biting entrees. Our bread pudding below is a typical example of this textural contrast--and it microwaves in less than 15 minutes (instead of the usual 45 minutes in a conventional oven).
You will need a heat-proof glass or Pyroceram dish for the roux. Some of the microwave plastic utensils cannot withstand the heat created as the roux becomes browned. The basis of this dish is a rather thin, fragrant and peppery soup in which the seafood and meat are cooked.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
1 cup finely chopped green peppers
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 large bay leaves
5 cups hot water
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 pound crab meat, broken up
1 pound smoked sausage, cut in bite-size chunks
Hot cooked rice
In 2-quart glass or Pyroceram casserole or measuring bowl, stir together flour and oil. Microwave on HIGH 10 to 14 minutes until mixture is dark brown. As roux microwaves, it will begin to brown, with separated "gritty" flour particles. Stir roux every 3 minutes until browned and separated, then stir every minute to prevent burning of particles. (Dish will be very hot, so handle it with potholders.)
Add chopped onions, green peppers, celery and garlic. Microwave on HIGH 5 to 9 minutes, stirring well every 3 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
In 4- or 5-quart casserole, blend salt, cayenne, white and black peppers, thyme and bay leaves. Add roux with vegetables and water and mix well. Cover and microwave on HIGH 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until bubbling and slightly thickened. Add shrimp, crab and sausage. Cover and microwave on HIGH 7 to 10 minutes until shrimp are opaque and sausage pieces are hot throughout. Remove bay leaves. Serve over rice. Makes about 6 to 8 servings.
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Here's a microwave version of the popular Cajun dish blackened redfish, which is blackened in a smoking skillet on the stove top. In the microwave, the fish stays moist and juicy with a nice "bite" to it. Here, the traditional trio of pepper seasonings is lighter in flavor due to the delicacy of the fish.
PEPPERY MICROWAVED FISH
2 (8-ounce) salmon steaks or red snapper fillets
Hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Lemon wedges and green pepper strips for garnish
Preheat browning dish or griddle to maximum time recommended by manufacturer. While dish is preheating, place steaks in single layer on butcher paper or cutting board. (If using red snapper, arrange with skin side down.) With pastry brush, brush oil over top of each steak. Add 2 to 3 drops hot pepper sauce to each steak; with fingertips, mix pepper sauce and oil together over top surface of each steak.
In small bowl or cup, stir together black pepper and paprika and divide mixture over steaks. When browning dish has heated, add steaks, peppered side down. Cover with lid of browning dish or with wax paper.
Microwave on HIGH 2 minutes, just until moisture begins to form on top surface. Turn steaks over and cover again. Continue microwaving on HIGH 1 to 2 minutes for salmon steaks, 2 to 3 minutes for snapper. Fish is done when it is no longer translucent. Serve, pepper side up, with lemon wedges and green pepper strips for garnish. Makes 2 servings.
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If possible, use crusty rolls rather than bread for this pudding. The rolls add texture and color. This is best served fresh. When entertaining, mix it ahead of time--it can stand at room temperature up to two hours before cooking--then microwave the pudding as you are clearing the table of the main course. The traditional whiskey sauce is an excellent garnish that takes only five minutes to cook. It is best when the bourbon is added to the warm sauce just before serving.
DOWN SOUTH BREAD PUDDING
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup raisins, optional
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cubes from crusty bread or rolls, lightly packed
In 1 1/2-quart casserole, whisk eggs and half and half until thoroughly blended. Stir in raisins, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and bread cubes. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM-HIGH 12 to 14 minutes, rotating if necessary every 4 minutes, until pudding is set and silver knife inserted near center comes out clean. Serve with Whiskey Sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 cup half and half
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup bourbon
In 1- to 1 1/2-quart casserole, whisk together cornstarch, sugar and half and half. Add butter. Microwave on HIGH 4 to 6 minutes, stirring thoroughly every 2 minutes, until sauce is thickened and smooth and no starchy taste remains. Stir in bourbon. Serve warm. Makes about 2 cups.