Spicy Blackened Whiting Bites

Two weeks ago I posted about a little hidden, spicy foods gem down the shore here in Jersey called Ragin’ Cajun. I picked up their cookbook the last time I was there and had to share this recipe for blackened fish bites. If you visit you’ll see the blackened chicken bites on the menu but I had a few filets of Whiting and decided on blackened fish bites. I’m posting this one because it’s one of the recipes posted on their website so not divulging too much from the book, you’ll have to go buy your own copy to get the rest of the goods!

Blackened Whiting with broccoli

Blackened just means you cook it until it looks nice and burnt but it’s not! Actually, you’re cooking at high heat and toasting the seasoning which brings out a wonderful smoky flavor. Also you want to be sure to use a cast iron skillet because of the high temperature but if you don’t have one use a heavy bottom pan instead, that will work just fine. Make sure you have a good Cajun seasoning as well because the only other ingredient is butter so your spice flavors should be well balanced. As an added bonus the book purchase came with a free jar of Ragin Cajun’s very own Cajun seasoning so I was pretty set, no way to mess up this recipe! Check them out and let me know what you think!

Ragin Cajun's Cookbook

Blackened Whiting Fish Bites
Recipe adapted from Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot

2 Whiting Filets, cubed
2 tbsp Cajun seasoning
3-4 tbsp unsalted butter

1. In a bowl, toss the fish bites with the seasoning.

2. Melt butter in a cast iron skillet on high heat. When butter melts and add the fish. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side making sure the fish is well coated with butter.

3. Serve as an appetizer or add a side veggie for dinner. I cooked broccoli in a little butter, minced garlic clove and red pepper flakes with a side of spicy remoulade sauce for a nice meal.

Staycation: Down the Bayou in Belmar New Jersey

This year I’ve gone down the shore just a couple of times but when I do go it’s an all day or overnight getaway. By the way, here in Jersey we say “down the shore” or “to the shore”, it’s a Jersey thing! So a mini “staycation” to the shore to regroup is always necessary after a rough work week. I go to soak up some sun, listen to the waves crash, read a book and veg out. When I was younger, going down the shore meant it was an opportunity to indulge in greasy boardwalk foods like funnel cakes, corn dogs, Italian sausage sandwiches or zeppoles. Now however, there’s a special place I go to where I don’t miss any of those earlier favorites. When I’m in Belmar, NJ I stop by Ragin Cajun, my go-to spot for amazing spicy Cajun food! It’s my mini getaway to the Bayou when I can’t get to Louisiana for authentic Creole and Cajun food.

Ragin Cajun Restaurant

Walking into Ragin Cajun’s is like walking into someone’s home. It’s warm, inviting, decorated with only the essentials and the staff treats you like a regular no matter how often you’ve been there. If you sit indoors or sit out in the front porch, it’s one of those places you want to linger.

Ragin Cajun Sign

I first visited Ragin Cajun in the mid-nineties and every time I’ve gone back the food is just as I remembered it. It’s spicy, full of flavor and tastes like a home cooked meal. They always serve warm bread rolls with a blackened, roasted whole garlic that spread like butter. The day I visited though the owner had stepped out to get the rolls so missed them but the waitress was kind enough to give me roasted garlic to go! So sweet!

roasted garlic

Every time I go I get the scampied artichoke hearts. They’re so tender and swimming in a spiced, garlic broth that’s great for dipping. My mouth waters just thinking about them!

scampied artichoke hearts

Another favorite is the blackened ________ (fill in the blank) bites! The blackened chicken bites are usually on the menu but sometimes they offer the succulent steak bites or the blackened swordfish bites shown below. Whatever “bites” they have just get them, you won’t be disappointed. They’re spicy but not hot so if you like flavor but can’t take much heat these will be a good choice.

blackened swordfish

The flavors are bold and transport me to the amazing food I’ve had from my various trips to New Orleans. If you’re looking for heat combined with great flavors then this is the place to go. Their dishes are rated on a 1-10 heat scale where 1 is no heat and 10 being very hot! The dish I usually get is the chicken creole which is about a 7 or 8 and made with chunky tomatoes, celery, onions and green peppers. It’s spicy, juicy and pacts a good amount of heat! You’ll be sweating after this one, or maybe not, depends on what you can handle.

chicken creole over rice

chicken creole over rice

Even if you don’t like spicy hot foods there’s something on the menu for you. They have all the classics like jambalaya, shrimp etouffee, and gumbo. Try the Chicken Baton Rouge, the blackened shrimp dinner or their vegetarian dishes for milder fare. Whatever you get just know it’ll be made with the freshest ingredients. It’s where you go when you want to taste authentic dishes from the Bayou without straying too far from home! There’s even a few horse head posts as seen on the streets of New Orleans!

iron horse head post

If you visit their website now you’ll notice it’s under construction and they’ve switched to a blog but don’t let that deter you. They’re on route 35 in Belmar, NJ across from the marina, and are only open from Tuesday thru Sunday for dinner but check their site for any updates. The owner also just released her cookout so if you love the food be sure to check out the book!

Meatless Mondays: Spicy Red Beans and Rice

When I made this dish I was thinking about the Cajun Red Beans and Rice but since I’ve been making beans since forever, I decided to spice it up Latin style. I used to have the Cajun version at an awesome restaurant in Belmar, NJ called Ragin’ Cajun many years ago. I haven’t been there in ages and not sure what it’s like now but man, the food there was insanely good. Everything was fresh, homemade, spicy and flavorful! Sometimes the owner/chef would step away from kitchen to check on customers. Always great food, always great service. From the spicy beef tips that weren’t always on the menu, the chicken baton rouge (my favorite!), the shrimp etouffee, to the roasted whole garlic that melted like butter when you spread it over hot, crusty rolls…delicious, I can still taste it now! I have been wanting to go back but sometimes life just gets in the way. I read that the original owner is still there and do plan to get down there before the summer crowd and the crazy Parkway traffic starts. It’s just one of those places you never forget…I hope business has been good for them over the years.

So even though I was thinking Cajun and have been wanting to travel to New Orleans for a while now for some good food, habit had me reach for the chipotle instead and went for more Latin flavors. I think I’m going to do a Cajun series though, or attempt to, although I’m not going to put okra in anything!  That’s one veggie I just can’t stand…and celery. So be on the look out for a “Missing NOLA” recipe series. I love that place!

I prepared the beans the way my Mom taught me growing up; Dominican style but with lots of heat. It’s so easy and great if you’re looking for more hearty vegetarian options and gluten free dishes. This dish is loaded with carbohydrates but there’s also plenty of protein, fiber and sweat inducing heat that makes it a great balanced meal. I actually had it with slices of avocado sprinkled with a little salt but it never made it in the photo. I was so hungry I just wolfed it down!

I also found this great chipotle sauce that I added to this recipe. It’s made by La Morena brand of canned chiles and sauces. I usually get their chipotle in adobo sauce, which is a must for any spicy food lover, and quickly grabbed a can while at my local market. When I got home I noticed it was just sauce and Oh My Goodness! So glad I did because this sauce was amazing. I hope you like this recipe!

Red Beans and Rice

1 can red kidney beans
1 small onion, cut in half & sliced
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 4oz can chipotle sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2-3 sprigs cilantro, stems are good, you can remove them later
1 cup water
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups rice + water for cooking
salt

Heat oil in saucepan on medium heat. When oil is hot add the onions until translucent. Add tomato paste, chipotle sauce, garlic and stir vigorously until all ingredients are well blended. Add the kidney beans and stir. The beans will be a bit dry with just the paste and you want them to be saucy so add cup of water and stir. Add the ground pepper, red pepper flakes and cilantro and let mixture boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. The beans are already cooked so idea is to let the flavors blend well and water boil off a bit, the beans should not be runny. You can remove the sprigs of cilantro when it’s done.

For rice, heat about 2 cups of water on high heat in a separate saucepan and add salt to taste. Then add a tsp of oil and rice. Water should cover rice completely, about 1/4 in above rice level. Let water boil off and when this happens, turn heat to low and cover saucepan. Cook rice for about 20 minutes until fluffy.

In a bowl, spoon beans over rice and serve while it’s piping hot. You can also add avocado slices seasoned with a pinch of salt.