When I saw the bin of ripe green bell peppers at my local farmer’s market, I immediately thought of stuffing them. In Cajun country, stuffing sweet peppers with ground anything is a basic Cajun recipe that every home cook knows by heart. Usually it’s a mixture of beef and pork sausage with just the right amount of spice and rice to pump up the volume and the tenderness. Red gravy or a dark roux-based sauce is the usual coating to anoint this traditional South Louisiana dish. I love it so.
But, I’ve taken a vow of abstinence from anything remotely calorie-laden or fat provoking. My resolution was taken in a weakened state of mind. I wasn’t thinking about all the great dishes to come in the spring and summer or how insanely difficult my goal would be–after all, we’re writing a food blog here. Oh well, maybe I can still have my calorie-laden cake and eat it, too. Break out the peppers.
Ground chicken–either grinding your own or buying it pre-ground–is a trade-off I am willing to embrace for this Cajun recipe for Chicken-Stuffed Bell Peppers. Mixed with Louisiana long-grain white rice and my hand-made bread crumbs this chicken should maintain moisture and have just enough fat content to be flavorful and juicy. Hmmm, maybe it needs a sauce.
Corn maque choux (mock shoe) is a Cajun recipe that actually appeared in South Louisiana long before the Grand Dérangement in 1755 brought the French Acadians to their new home. One of the strong culinary influences in Louisiana is a result of its Native American heritage. Indians made their mark on the eating habits of Europeans and Africans, connecting them to many of the truly unique tastes of Louisiana. Choctaws, Chitimacha, Tunica-Biloxi and Coushatta are just some of the many tribes of South Louisiana, and their dishes are legendary.
Tribal cooking gave us filé powder, a thickening spice from the sassafras root which is a mainstay of Cajun gumbo. Trapping turtle and hand-fishing for catfish is traced to Indian culture. But it is their traditional reverence for corn that took an especially tasteful turn in the ever-popular corn maque choux.
A spicy mixture of corn and peppers with a little creaminess, this is the perfect sauce for my Chicken-Stuffed Bell Peppers experiment. When made with goat’s milk from my friend West Constantine’s WesMar Farms in Avoyelles Parish, it lightens the load yet elevates the rich flavor of my lighter version. If you can’t find goat’s milk, feel free to use 2% cow’s milk.
Whether it is fit for a diet or not, I will leave to the dieticians out there. All I know is that this Chicken-Stuffed Bell Peppers recipe is at the top of my repertoire of variations of traditional Cajun recipes that work beautifully. I urge you to try it, and don’t even tell your guests it cuts the calories and fat–or so I say.
- 6 ears of fresh yellow or white corn, husks and silk removed
- 4 strips smoked bacon
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced green bell pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- ½ cup goat’s milk or low-fat milk
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- Dash of hot sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large green bell peppers
- Water, for boiling
- ½ fresh lemon
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced red bell pepper
- ½ cup diced celery
- 2 pounds ground chicken
- 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
- 1 cup cooked Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- Dash of hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- Using a sharp knife, slice the corn kernels off the cobs shaving as close to the cob as possible. Once the corn is off, take the back of the knife and pull across the cob releasing the corn “milk”. Continue as long as the liquid flows.
- In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add the bacon strips. Once the bacon is browned, remove from the pan, drain on paper towels and break into small pieces for later use.
- In the same skillet over medium heat, pour off half the bacon grease. Add the corn along with the onion, celery, and bell pepper sautéing until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic along with the crumbled bacon and decrease the heat to low. Add the butter, tomatoes, and green onion tops. Cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add the goat’s milk and turn the heat to medium-high. Watch as the milk reduces, and the mixture begins to thicken. Add the cayenne, salt, and pepper along with a dash of the hot sauce. Stirring constantly, cook until the mixture thickens to a sauce consistency, about 5 minutes. Turn off the fire and keep warm until serving.
- Cut the tops off the bell peppers and scoop out the seeds and ribs. You can reserve the tops of the peppers for presentation if you like or, like me, put them in a freezer bag for future stock making.
- In a large pot of boiling water, squeeze the lemon into the water and add the bell peppers. Blanch for 1 minute. Immediately remove from the water, drain and let cool for later use.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions, red bell peppers, and celery. Sauté until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and continue cooking just until the chicken loses its raw color (don’t brown the chicken at this point since it will cook again later). Turn off the heat.
- Add the chicken mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the bread crumbs and cooked white rice along with the two beaten eggs. Fold the mixture together until thoroughly combined. Add the Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Let cool.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- In an ovenproof baking dish or aluminum pan, add the peppers standing with the open end up. Stuff the chicken mixture into the peppers and mound it up and over the top of the peppers. Add water to the bottom of the baking dish just until it covers the bottom (this will keep the bottom from burning and add needed moisture for baking).
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil by tenting the peppers and avoiding touching the tops of the peppers. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep warm.
- For serving, either plate the peppers individually with a hearty portion of the maque choux sauce, or bring to the table family style on a large platter. Lots of hot French bread will go great with this dish.
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