Tuesday, March 6, 2012



Nom Nom Nom

I fell in love with smoked tomato sauce quite by chance.

Chicago, circa June
Last December, while on a road trip from The Middle Of Nowhere, MN to The Middle Of Nowhere, MI, my fiancee and I stopped to have dinner with my brothers and sisters in Chicago.  Residents of the Windy City are a proud people.  And as anyone who knows a Chicagoan can attest to, any time you are in, at, or around Chicago, they will take you downtown for a taste of life in the Big City.  It doesn't matter if you live in a much bigger city (like LA)...  or if your city has more types of Mexican restaurants than they have restaurants...  or if you don't have a winter coat and it's snowing...  they will cram all the glitz and glamour Chicago has to offer down your throat.

Begrudgingly (and freezingly) my fiancee and I zipped up our Northface softshell jackets and piled into the car.   In what can only be described as "the most terrifying eighteen minutes of my life", my brother managed to weave his way from Western and Armitage to an overpriced parking garage in the Loop...  home of Chicago's famed Heaven on Seven restaurant.

Skepticism reigned.  I have been to the Crescent City and  have had authentic  Cajun cuisine.  The place was a live-action cartoon.  It was like a Rain Forest Cafe run by Roger Rabbit, but without the inherent class such a combination would suggest.  Parade-sized Mardi Gras heads hung from the ceiling.  Bottles of hot sauce lined shelves on the wall.  Beads were strewn about like a Daytona storage closet in the off-season. The place smelled like someone had soaked saltines in beer and mayonnaise and dried them unaided in a basement.  However, it was 22 degrees outside and I was wearing a sweater.  I was not leaving that restaurant without eating.

Despite my initial impression, the food was good and, as far as I could tell, fairly authentic.  My fiancee had done the LA thing and converted to a pescatarian (no chicken, beef, or pork- fish is OK).  I tried to be supportive and said said I was "on-board" and "we could do it together"...  but I was totally not and we totally couldn't.  She ordered the smoked tomato sauce over rice and roasted vegetables.  The rest of my family and I scarfed down bowls of their famous gumbo and barbecued meats galore.  Galore I say!

Heidi's (my fiancee's) dish was very good.  So good, in fact, that she started craving it once we were back home.  While searching for local restaurants that might have similar dishes, I stumbled upon a cookbook by Heaven on Seven's owner and executive chef, John Bannos.  I was stymied when I discovered he was selling the recipes he used in his restaurant.  Why would anyone in their right mind sell the recipes they use to keep customers coming back for more?  Teach a man to cook, am I right?

Well, one quick peruse of the book revealed why  he was so quick to sell-out.  His recipes require so many ingredients and so much effort, it's not worth attempting.  Unless, of course, you live 1500 miles away.  I didn't buy the book, but through the magic of the internet, was able to find his recipe for smoked tomato sauce!

Urethra!  I found it!  This was to be my finest hour!

This is, without a doubt, the most pretentious thing I've ever made.  The sauce itself requires minute amounts of 19 similar, but different ingredients...  and one of those 19 ingredients is a quarter teaspoon of his Angel Dust Cajun seasoning...  which consists of 11 additional ingredients.  Once you gather the various paprikas (I'm not kidding), sugars, peppers, and host of other seasonings, you still have to smoke, puree, and simmer.  But man, is it worth it.

1/2 cups wood chips soaked in in water for 20 minutes (hickory or applewood work best)
1 pound plum tomatoes, cored, cut in half lengthwise, and seeded
1 small yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
1 (5.5 oz) can vegetable juice (like V8)
3 table spoons of water
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon light molasses
1/4 teaspoon Angle Dust seasoning (Recipe)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 cup balsamic vinnegar
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of chile powder
Pinch of dried thyme leaves
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground Mexican oregano
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Opened outside.  Thank you protip.
Place the wood chips in a 10-inch cast iron pan. Put the tomatoes and yellow onion in a 9-inch disposable metal pie tin and place on top of the wood chips.  Cover with a tight fitting lid (to ensure a snug seal, loosely place a piece of aluminium foil across the top of the pan before pressing the lid firmly down; press any overlapping foil up against the lid, taking care not to let it touch the flame). Turn the heat to high and smoke the vegetables for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for several minutes.

PROTIP: Take your homemade smoker outside before you open it up.  If you don't, your fiancee will yell at you for making the house smell like a campfire.

Transfer the smoked vegetables to a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into a medium sauce pan along with the juice, water, sugars, molasses, Cajun seasoning, salt, vinegar, cayenne, ground black and white peppers, red pepper flakes, chile powder, thyme, cumin, and oregano; bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Simmer for ten minutes, whisking occasionally.  Whisk in the butter, a few pieces at a time.


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