Blackened Not Burnt
It was a city that seemed to accept me. It accepted me with all my flaws; physical, mental and emotional. Beyond the flaws it held promise of gently holding me in its arms and assuring me no matter what, I'd be welcome. That has been my lasting impression of New Orleans.
We walked around in dimly lit streets in the evenings with the air heavy and thick from the Gulf moisture. Music playing several streets down by live bands with an entourage parading along. Smells of the salt waters mixed with wafting aromas of spices, peppers and sewage (especially at the French Quarter). Somehow this combination of sensory experiences and impressions are what stayed with me of my memories of this enigmatic city. These memories are truly cherished.
Heading down one of the streets, admiring the graffiti on the walls, I pondered whether I'd thrive or just survive in this city. Could I just uproot myself, plant my feet in this city of possibilities and dance to its beat?
The hometown of Louis Armstrong the jazz culture has found its way into every nook and cranny. One cannot go anywhere without hearing it. I must admit I was so enamored by the nightlife of New Orleans. Let's step away from the infamous Bourbon street and into other lesser known alleys. Here we found obscure, hidden courtyards with people piled in with a pint or two listening to a live band playing covers and their own compositions. I've never been much of a nightlife person always preferring to be tucked away in bed with a book, but at these jazz bars I was at home somehow. The music felt soulful, the ambiance relaxed and the people reflective.
15 years later it is a city trying to shake off the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Much work and healing still needs to be done but the city isn't one to accept defeat. The people have returned bringing back fresh ideas into the old streets. New Orleans is the phoenix rising from the ashes; restructured, reborn and reinvigorated. Every street we walked through had a story. Its Spanish and French history still alive to this present day but hidden unless you notice. Narrow smelly alleyways suddenly give way to beautiful walls or buildings with a sign describing its historic significance. But that's New Orleans for you, unpretentious and unashamedly holding out its scars as if a thing of beauty. Yet there is something alluring if you managed to look past.
There was no possibility of me ending this blog post without talking about the food. In a class of its own, cajun-creole cuisine is synonymous with Louisiana. Gumbo, étouffée, po' boys, crawfish boil, jambalaya are just some of the well known dishes that come from this Southern state. And lets not forget the powdered beignets (Cafe du Monde anyone?). Louisiana is a state with Spanish, French, Caribbean and West African influences. The food is mixture of these cultures and unlike any other found in any other state. The hold trinity of onions, green bell peppers and celery make the base for most stews and soups and the roux is darkened to the extent you question whether it is burnt.
Blackened fish also originated from New Orleans. Spicy, herbaceous, earthy, sweet and salty this dish is a party in ones mouth. Spices are generously poured over the fish and pan seared to the point of "blackening" it but not burning the spices. It is a dish that looks deceivingly simple yet it requires patience, finesse and confidence. But like all things NOLA, it isn't as pretty to look at, when you dig in....cue in the jazz!
Blackened Salmon with cajun roasted potatoes and lemony swiss chard
Serves 2 - 3
1 pound skin-on wild-caught salmon (at room temperature)
2 tablespoon avocado oil
1-1/2 tablespoons One Good Knife Cajun Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 2" cubes *
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon One Good Knife Cajun Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced
For Swiss Chard
2 bunch Swiss chard, chopped (with stems)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
In a bowl toss potatoes with olive oil, salt and One Good Knife Cajun Seasoning
Spread evenly on a sheet tray and bake for about 45mins (or till soft)
Every 15 mins flip the potatoes to ensure even browning.
When done toss with parsley.
For the Swiss chard, In a saute pan, heat the oil on medium.
Add in the onions. Sauté for 30 seconds.
Add in the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds.
Add in the Swiss chard and sprinkle with salt. Sauté for 5-6 mins.
Finish with lemon juice and serve
Heat a large sauté pan (cast iron is ideal) on a medium-high heat. The pan should be large enough to fit the salmon.
Using a paper towel, pat the skin side of the salmon to dry.
Place salmon on a flat surface and sprinkle with the salt and One Good Knife Cajun Seasoning on the flesh side. Do not salt the skin side especially for a crispy skin.
In the pan add the avocado oil and let it get hot. Place the salmon skin side down in the hot oil.
After 1 min, reduce temperature to medium heat.
Let the skin sear and crisp up for about 3- 5 mins (depends on thickness) or preferred doneness.
Using a fish spatula, flip the salmon around and sear the flesh side.
Use the spatula to guide the fish to sear it on all areas. Sear for about 2 mins.
The fish should be "blackened" but not burnt.
Serve Blackened Salmon with cajun potatoes, lemony swiss chard and lemon wedges.