I can’t remember the first time I ever tried blackened fish, but I do remember that I liked it. I don’t even remember where I ate it, except that it wasn’t in New Orleans, where Chef Paul Prudhomme made blackened fish popular at his K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen restaurant back in the 1980’s. Wherever and whenever I had it, I liked it so much that I had to try making it myself at home as soon as possible. I bought one of Chef Paul’s cookbooks, and soon I was making all kinds of Cajun dishes, including blackened fish.
These days, blackened fish and meats are a popular menu item at restaurants all over the world. For those who are unfamiliar with it, blackening is a cooking technique that involves dredging meat or seafood in butter and spices, then cooking in a very hot cast iron skillet. Unless you have a heavy duty commercial grade exhaust system in your kitchen (the kind used in restaurants), it needs to be done outdoors due to the smoke it produces. I use a gas grill for blackening, which keeps the smoke and heat safely outdoors.
Years ago I bought a 12″ cast iron skillet specifically to use for blackening, and that’s all I ever use it for. The skillet itself is black now and well-seasoned after many years of use. You can use any good quality, heavy cast iron skillet though for blackening, and it doesn’t have to be dedicated just for that purpose.
My recipe is an adaptation of the method that Chef Paul Prudhomme used. His technique involves dipping the fish in melted butter, then seasoning with the spice mix before cooking and adding even more butter. But I found I get good results by seasoning the fish with spices, adding a little butter to a hot skillet, then placing the fish fillets in the skillet. My method uses less butter, and is easier and quicker, especially when you’re working over a smoking hot skillet on a gas grill. And I’m happy with the results, as is my wife who has learned how to cook it herself now!
I also came up with my own blackening spice mix. You can certainly buy a ready-made mix, and Chef Paul’s Magic Seasoning brand is a good one. I have also used the Durkee blackening mix. But I like making my own mix, where I can control the amount of salt and heat that goes in it. I also like using some of my own herbs and spices.
You can use either skinless salmon fillets or ones with the skin on for this recipe. Skinless pieces will allow both sides to be blackened. For a spicier dish, use more cayenne pepper, or omit it entirely for a milder taste.