Back in the 1980s, before the celebrity-TV-chef boom took hold, the late Paul Prudhomme was about as famous as a chef could get. It was then that he invented his famous blackened fish, —- a dish that became wildly popular, in his New Orleans restaurant called K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. I first encountered blackened fish at Prudhomme's short-lived New York City outpost of K-Paul's.
It's unfortunate that he chose to call the fish "blackened" because, sadly, almost every time I now order blackened fish or chicken in restaurants, that's exactly how it comes: charred, bitter and blackened. But Prudhomme's own version is more subtle. The entire fish isn't completely blackened, just in a few spots; it doesn't taste burned and bitter.
Here is the basic recipe for blackened fish fillets that chef Paul used. It works well with any firm-fleshed fish like catfish, grouper, redfish, snapper, tuna or salmon steaks. For this recipe, I used Pacific snapper. It's a ridiculously easy dish to cook, but one with tremendous flavor.
WARNING: Doing blackened fish or chicken in the kitchen will most likely set off every smoke alarm in your house. So, unless you have a professional/industrial-strength hood vent over your stove, I STRONGLY suggest cooking outside on the grill. There WILL be smoke — lots of it.
Fish fillets, one per person, about 1/2 inch thick
Chef Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Redfish Magic* or other Creole seasoning
1/2 stick unsalted butter (for 6 fillets; less, if you make fewer)
*You can also make your own Creole seasoning. Here is the basic recipe for that:
1 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. onion powder
3/4 tsp. ground white pepper
3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Combine all the spice ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
Place a dry cast-iron skillet on the grates of an outdoor grill. Heat the grill to about 600 F. You want to get the skillet super-hot before cooking. DON'T put any oil, butter or anything else into the skillet. It must be DRY.
Place the fish fillets on a large platter or plate. Melt the butter and drizzle it over the fish.
Sprinkle the fillets on one side with about 3/4 tsp. Redfish Magic per fillet. Chef Paul warns to not overseason the fish. The seasoning should "highlight the taste rather than hide or overpower it."
Turn the fillets over and repeat with the rest of the butter and 3/4 tsp. seasoning per fillet.
When your iron skillet is extremely hot, place the fillets into the dry skillet.
Cook, turning once, until the fish begins to flake, about 4-5 minutes total cooking time.
Remove the fillets to serving plates and serve piping hot. The blackened fish here are pictured with a side of dirty rice.
Photos by Ted Scheffler