When I first encountered Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (pronounced SAH-shur-ee) I was twenty years old and living in Lake Charles, Louisiana—a city off of I-10, made infamous by the (very douche-y) Nic Pizzolatto of True Detective as “one of the easiest places to get your ass kicked on the Gulf Coast.” Lake Charles is also the birthplace of Lucinda Williams and the title of one of her saddest and most famous songs (about an ex-boyfriend.) My ex-boyfriend grew up about a half hour south of the city and in the spring of 2010 he and I lived with two friends and one enemy in a dingy housing development called the Fleur de Lis Apartments. That’s not a typo, they misspelled Fleur de Lis.
We were extremely poor, but young enough that it usually felt comical. Everyone made minimum wage, working in bar kitchens or at a motel called Inn on Bayou and shifts were unreliable. Our friend John Paul (“Not named after the Pope”) was in the habit of snacking on expired MREs left over from Hurricane Ike. We had two movies, Boyz n the Hood and Willow, and I remember them playing almost constantly in the background. When we went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras we put down blankets and crashed in the flatbed of John’s truck. It rained. Soaking wet and freezing, we ended up sleeping in an empty horse stable.
Because I am an idiot, I remember this as a very happy time. The Saints had just won the Superbowl for the first time in franchise history and I was in love, in a way that I’m not sure you can or should be past the age of twenty. Everything I ate tasted like Tony Chachere’s.
Tony Chachere’s commands an exceptional loyalty among Creole and Cajun seasonings. It has neither a catchy name (Slap Ya Mama) nor the weight of history and New Orleans behind it (Zatarain’s, est. 1889). And yet, “for a recent article on Cajun spice blends for Chile Pepper magazine, so many people responded to me with a die-hard love for Chachere’s,” Andrea Lynn wrote in Serious Eats. “There were accolades to Tony Chachere’s that weren’t seen for other Cajun blends. Fans keep Ziploc bags of it in their purse, containers in the car and dust every dish with the blend.” Lynn was baffled—pointing to the recipe from Chachere’s Cajun Country Cookbook which calls for 12 ounces of salt and only 4 ounces of spices. “I’m just puzzled by the utter devotion,” Lynn wrote.
According to company lore, Tony Chachere’s was invented in a garage in Opelousas, Louisiana—a small town about an hour and half east of Lake Charles. Opelousas is also the subject of a Lucinda Williams song, this one about visiting her ex-boyfriend in the St. Landry Parish jail (unfortunately very relatable). The eponymous Tony was born in Opelousas in 1905 and worked as traveling drug salesman during the Great Depression before setting up shop as a chemist—it wasn’t until the age of sixty-seven that he finally published the cookbook that would launch his line of seasonings. In every picture I have seen of Tony he looks like an impossibly old and friendly elf.
“Modern people have seen too many chemicals,” Mark Kurlansky wrote, in his 2002 book Salt, “and are ready to go back to eating dirt.” Tony Chachere’s is essentially the dirt of seasonings: grimy salt for people too lazy to navigate the nuance of individual spices. But it is meant to be used in place of rather than in concert with salt, something the haters seem to overlook. It calls for chili powder instead of cayenne pepper, so it’s spicy enough to make bland food interesting without overwhelming the flavor. It is great on homefries and eggs, it is perfect in a brine, it makes bad soup palatable. It’s a godsend if you are dead broke and just trying to get through another night of beans and rice and unlike Slap Ya Mama, Tony Chachere’s remains decidedly uncool. It is the people’s seasoning—low-key and all purpose and finding it in New York is like running into an old friend in the grocery store.
The best use I have found for Tony Chachere’s thus far is Dorito Cake. Dorito Cake is something my ex-boyfriend and our friend Blake “invented” when they were (obviously) very stoned and it is more casserole than cake. Dorito Cake sounds disgusting and it is but it is also delicious. Eating it more than once a year will probably give you a heart attack, but it’s a good thing to bring to Friendsgiving or a New Year’s Eve Party, a novelty food meant to be shared with all the gross idiots you love.
- 1 Box Yellow Rice
- Olive Oil
- ½ pound ground beef
- A lot of shredded cheese
- 1 ½ Bags Cool Ranch Doritos
- Tony Chachere’s, used liberally
- Heat stove to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a pan with Doritos and sprinkle shredded cheese over them. Use a lot of cheese! You want the Doritos to hold together as a base.
- Cook ground beef in a saucepan, throw a lot of Tony Chachere’s in there.
- Cook the rice, add olive oil and butter. Throw a middling amount of Tony Chachere’s in.
- Add ground beef to your Dorito pan, sprinkle a layer of cheese over the ground beef.
- Add rice, sprinkle cheese over the rice.
- Add a layer of Doritos on top. Cover in cheese. This is the “icing.”
- Cook pan in the oven for 5-10 or whenever the cheese melts. Serve!