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Cooking from your bag of tricks

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Every cook is advised to have a bag of tricks with recipes for simple but impressive dishes that they know will work every time and can be whipped up at a moment's notice.
Knowing how to roast chicken is a good skill to have. Even in a rice-eater's heaven like Malaysia, a good roast chicken gets most people's approval and it can be seasoned or marinated in many ways.
My roast chicken seasoning is a Cajun spice rub. If I want leftovers, I'll get a whole chicken, butterfly it and apply the spice rub, then put it in the oven. That takes no effort at all. But with only two of us in the household, I usually just get cuts and instead of heating up the oven for the few pieces, I'll cook the chicken on the stove.
I've made "blackened chicken" many times, and just a few days ago, I saw a similar recipe by American chef  Paul Prudhomme who called it "bronzed" chicken. This is what he says about the process:
"My advice to people at home is bronzing rather that blackening. This avoids the smoke and the risk of handling a red-hot skillet while still achieving an excellent result... The coat of this bronzed chicken breast is golden and caramelized from the cooking method. The secret to bronzing is to keep the skillet at the right temperature. The chicken should take 6 to 7 minutes to cook. If it takes much longer, the skillet is not hot enough." 
Prudhomme's chicken was served with a tomato and spinach pilaf, which was called Red, Green and Brown Rice. The link to the recipe seems to have been disabled but putting a similar dish together isn't difficult. I'm borrowing the name of the dish because of the colour but have changed practically everything else.
Now, about the Cajun spice seasoning for the chicken: I have made my own before, but I have also used a ready-made variety. The Husband can't tell the difference but I have a feeling he favours the store-bought seasoning since it's saltier. I feel a bit of a fraud when I use the ready-made mix and receive compliments for the tasty chicken. I don't always pass it off as my own, but at other times I just say thank you and throw my conscience out the door.

Bronzed Chicken Breasts
Makes 2 servings

2-3 tbsp Cajun spice rub (ready-made or homemade, recipe follows)
2 boneless chicken breasts or thighs, about 400g, skin off
1-2 tbsp cooking oil

Spread spice rub on a plate. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Press chicken into spice rub, coating both sides well. Cover and set aside at room temperature for no more than 30 minutes or in the fridge for up to 8 hours.
Heat a medium-sized nonstick skillet over high heat and add oil. When it is very hot, add the chicken pieces. Immediately turn down heat to medium. Cook until the underside is blackened and the meat does not stick to the pan, about 5 minutes. Cook second side 5-6 minutes or until cooked through.

Cajun/Creole Seasoning/Spice Rub
Makes about ¼ cup

2½ tsp paprika
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight container.

Red, Green and Brown Rice
Makes 2 servings

½ cup brown rice, rinsed
¾ cup water
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper 
1 tsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Place rice in a rice cooker with water, tomato ketchup, vegetable stock powder and cayenne pepper. When cooker goes off, leave for 15 minutes, then add oil and seasonings to taste. Add basil leaves and toss well.


  1. Chef Paul Prudhomme created "blackened" redfish and other things back in the 1980's. My Cajun grandmother would have thrown anything "blackened" to the dogs, but he made it a major trend and now everyone thinks Cajuns cook that way. Whatever, bronzed meats are better than blackened, and his seasoning blends are excellent. If you can get some of his "Poultry Magic" blend, that's the best thing there is for bronzing chicken (or roasting it in the oven).

    His original bronzing technique involved dipping the chicken breast in butter, then the seasoning blend, then cooking it in a very hot pan. I saw him do it in a demonstration once, and he made a point of having us watch the side of the chicken breast to know when to turn it - the meat turns white as it cooks, and you can see a line on the side. He said not to turn it until that line was halfway up the side of the chicken. He also pounded the chicken breasts so they were even thickness.

    He ditched the butter when he went on a health kick and lost a bunch of weight, and it's a shame, because that original technique made for spectacular chicken.

  2. If you can get Chef Paul's "Poultry Magic" seasoning blend, that's the best thing for bronzing chicken or roasting it. His Pork & Veal magic is also fantastic. He created the whole "blackened" trend back in the 1980's. I promise you no Cajun ate blackened food before that. (My Cajun grandmother would have thrown anything "blackened" to the dogs.)

    His original bronzing technique, which I saw him demonstrate once in the 1990's, was to dip the meat in melted butter, then to season it generously with one of his Magic seasoning blends, then to cook it in a very hot pan. He had us watch the side of a chicken breast to know when to turn it - the meat turns white as it cooks, and you can see the line rising up the side. He told us not to turn the meat until the line was halfway up the side. He also pounded the chicken breasts so they were an even thickness.

    He ditched the butter when he got healthy and lost a bunch of weight later, and it's kind of a shame, because that original bronzing technique makes for spectacular chicken (and pork & lamb chops).

    1. Thanks Telesma. I don't think I've ever seen the seasoning you mention here in Malaysia, but I'll look out for it the next time I go to America. And I agree, everything tastes better cooked in butter :-D


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