Yield: 8 servings
This Cajun side dish has so much going for it, I hardly know where to begin. First of all, it adds a welcome splash of color to the Thanksgiving menu, which frankly, can be somewhat bland-looking. Also, its spiciness compliments, not overwhelms, the other dishes. Next, it can be made well-ahead and reheated. Finally, it has bacon in it, which adds an old-fashioned flavor that my guests love in these bacon-challenged times. (When I make Creamed Maque-Choux, I leave the bacon out.) In fact, this simple dish has been the sleeper hit at many of my Thanksgiving spreads.
Even if you can get fresh corn in November, I don't recommend it for this dish. It would probably be a super-sweet hybrid, and will be too sugary. Thawed frozen corn kernels are processed from a less-sweet variety, and much better.
While "choux" means "cabbage" in French, there is no literal translation of "maque-choux" in either French or Cajun patois. The word (and the basis for the recipe) probably comes from the native Indians who lived in the Bayou. In other words, it is the Cajun version of succotash, the corn and bean dish that the Northeastern Indians taught the Pilgrims.
6 strips thick-sliced bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 medium celery ribs, chopped
4 cups thawed frozen corn kernels
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
2 large ripe tomatoes (such as Holland or Israeli), seeded and chopped
The maque-choux can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated.
1. Place the bacon in a 12-inch skillet. Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towels to drain. When the bacon is cool, chop coarsely and set aside.
2. Pour out all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery to the pan, and cook until the onion is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the corn, garlic, and Cajun Seasoning, and cook, stirring frequently, until the corn is heated through, about 5 minutes. (The maque-choux can be prepared up to this point 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Reheat gently in the skillet over low heat, stirring often.)
3. Stir in the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped bacon and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.
Delete the bacon and substitute 3 tablespoons unsalted butter for the bacon drippings. When the maque-choux is finished, reduce the heat to low. In a small bowl, whisk 2 large eggs with 1 teaspoon cornstarch until the cornstarch dissolves. Whisk in 1 cup heavy cream. Slowly stir the mixture into the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, just until thickened, about 30 seconds. Do not allow to boil, or the eggs will curdle. Immediately transfer to a warm serving dish and serve hot.
Mix 2 tablespoons paprika (preferably Spanish or Hungarian sweet paprika), 1 tablespoon each dried thyme and basil, 1 teaspoon each garlic powder and onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Save leftovers in a covered jar and use to season chicken, pork, fish, or even popcorn.