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Big Chicken Mamou Leaves Its Mark
Mar 10, 2008
The sounds were small but unmistakable - escaping bursts of pain. My family suffered quietly, no one daring to say anything. I finally broke the silence. “It’s kind of hot, isn’t it?”
My shrimp dish had turned on us. It could have been the three teaspoons of cayenne pepper, but I suspect it was the huge jalapeno pepper I tossed in for variety. I needed a vegetable and I thought, “Hey, a pepper works!” Backfire took on a new meaning that night.
I was raised in a culinarily adventurous household, one that held Tabasco sauce in reverence. Most Sundays would find my father in the kitchen scrambling eggs with gobs of the red stuff floating among the yellow yolks - sharing space with the Worcestershire sauce and black pepper.
My grandmother, a tiny, no-nonsense Cajun woman who produced miracles in the kitchen, loved her cayenne pepper. I’ll never forget one dish she prepared when she was getting on in years.
A beautiful onion soup arrived at the table, hidden beneath crusty croutons smothered with cheese. Actually, lying in wait is more like it. That first fiery bite told the story. Water glasses were clutched, eyes were streaming, and the younger children were dropping like flies. Looks were exchanged, but no one spoke (we couldn’t.) We waited for Mama to taste her soup, prepared to comfort her about her lapse of seasoning judgment. She took a big bite, smacked her lips and serenely left table. “I think it needs a little more pepper,” she called on the way to the kitchen.
Hot food inspires intense reactions. Hot wings are nirvana to some, just plain stupid to others. I used to think it was a genetic thing, but I know better now. Tolerance for heat can blossom into masochism, given the proper exposure. When I first met my husband, he was used to fireless food.
Marriage into my family changed his life forever. His first head-on collision with our cooking traditions was one of my mother’s spicy tamale pies. My newly acquired husband took one bite and gasped. “Are we supposed to eat this?” he whispered to me in disbelief.
He has come a long way since then. Now he’s pretty dangerous in the kitchen, himself. One of his more memorable dishes, “Chicken Big Mamou,” has achieved legendary proportions in our circle of friends. He prepared the dish for company early one day, and didn’t realize that Tabasco sauce intensifies as it sits. It marinated for hours until spontaneous combustion finally occurred. My friends still use that dish as a benchmark of pain. “Yeah, it’s hot,” they say, “but is it as bad as Big Mamou?”
Hot food is currently enjoying a surge in popularity. I have a theory about this. We’re looking for a distraction while we eat all this stylish low-fat stuff that tastes like something with a pretty long half-life. What better way to ignore a lack of taste than with a blistering blast from our fat-free little pepper buddies? They are the perfect diet aid. You can’t raise a fork when you are unconscious.