The Cooler Kitchen: Cajun Surf and Turf?

I think I'm starting to get the hang of this cooking-from-scratch thing.

I've been doing most of the cooking at home for roughly 30 years. But for most of that time, I was pretty much a by-the-(cook)book kind of guy, lacking the confidence to just look in the fridge or pantry and see what I could throw together.

The truth is, though, that the more you cook -- and I've been doing so almost daily since we moved to Chicago last year and I embarked on the adventurous life of a freelance food writer -- the more natural it becomes to just match this with that.

Sunday lunch turned out to be our big meal of the day because I had an event to attend in the evening (a fundraiser for the Academy for Global Citizenship, an excellent charter school serving Chicago's Southwest Side). I was just going to saute some tilapia and serve it with vegetables, when it occurred to me that I had some chicken andouille sausage from Trader Joe's in the refrigerator, which in turn reminded me that it has been a long time since I've had Cajun food, one of my favorites.

So lunch ended up being Cajun-style tilapia with a side of sauteed andouille, red bell pepper and sweet onion. Louisiana surf and turf, I guess. It kind of looked like this.

It would be hard to find something this tasty that is easier to make. Start the sausage-vegetable concoction first, then prepare the fish, because tilapia is very thin and cooks quickly.

1) Dice about a half-pound of andouille sausage. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a pan, add the sausage and cook over medium-high heat until brown. Remove meat to a bowl and set aside.

2) Add a diced half red bell pepper and a diced half large onion (or whole small onion) to the same pan, cook the vegetables until soft and brown, then reduce heat to low.

3) Prepare four pieces of tilapia by coating thinly with olive oil and then apply a generous amount of Cajun seasoning. (I use Penzey's mild version, though there are many others on the market. Or you can try your own hand, with paprika, salt, garlic, black pepper and cayenne your essential starting points.) I added some chopped-up Italian parsley, but it's optional.

4) Place fish in a separate, lightly oiled pan over medium-high heat. Cook until brown on the bottom, then turn carefully (this fish is a little delicate), and brown the other side. When that is completed, turn the heat down to medium low. This whole process will take just a few minutes.

5) The pepper-onion combo should pick up some of the andouille sausage spice in the pan, but taste and adjust with some of the Cajun seasoning if necessary. Then add the sausage back in, just to warm.

6) Remove fish, set aside. Add about a cup of broth (chicken, vegetable or fish stock) to that pan, turn heat to high for a minute or so and reduce the liquid until it is a nicely concentrated pan sauce.

7) Place a piece of fish on each plate, topped with the sauce, alongside a generous helping of the sausage-pepper-onion combo. I shaved some Parmigiano Reggiano on top, but that's optional, too.

If you try it, let me know.

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