One of the most flavorful ways to prepare food, blackening is a technique that people the world over enjoy. The spicy flavor and attractive dark color are part and parcel for this homey dish. Originally conceived of as a fish recipe, today blackening seasoning is used to treat all kinds of food, including shrimp, steak, chicken, pork and even vegetables. Blackening adds a delicious, spicy, smoky element to food that many people find irresistible. However, making blackening seasoning and using it can often seem complicated, but doesn't really have to be.
Most people assume that blackening is a traditional Cajun recipe, much like gumbo, jambalaya or etouffee, but this is actually a misconception. The blackening process was invented and perfected by Chef Paul Prudhomme, at K-Paul's in New Orleans. Though Chef Prudhomme is steeped in Louisiana tradition, he actually introduced the process less than 30 years ago. Blackening quickly caught on, however, and is now enjoyed all over the world. Redfish was the first dish to be blackened, but this versatile process has since been applied to a wide variety of foods.
Unlike some other foods, there is no standard recipe for blackening seasoning. That means that each cook and company includes slightly different ingredients. Salt and pepper are to be found in almost all recipes, and are most commonly accompanied by paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme and oregano. Some of these ingredients may be left out, and others, such as white pepper, may be included. No matter the recipe, blackening seasonings are usually applied liberally just before pan searing in a hot skillet.
If you're looking to make your own blackening seasoning at home, here's a recipe that you can start with: 2 tsp. kosher salt; 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper; 1 ½ tsp. cayenne; 1 tbsp. paprika; ½ tsp. thyme; and ½ tsp. oregano. Mix all ingredients thoroughly, and you are ready to start seasoning. This is a relatively basic recipe so feel free to adjust the amounts of seasoning, and to add your own favorite spices.
Making blackening seasoning isn't really difficult, but it can be a bit tricky to get the proportions right. Many chefs choose to use a store-bought blackening seasoning mix. There are several to choose from, all of which are usually kept on the spice aisle or with other Cajun ingredients. Make sure that you select blackening seasoning, as opposed to creole seasoning, which isn't the same thing. If you're having trouble picking between brands, check the ingredient list. The one with fewer preservatives and unpronounceable chemicals probably has a more authentic flavor.
Using Blackening Seasoning
You'll need a cast iron skillet, oil, melted butter and the food item you plan on cooking. Add a tablespoon or two of oil to the skillet, and heat over a medium high flame until just smoking. Meanwhile, dip the protein in the melted butter, then coat it generously with the blackening seasoning. Cook the meat in the hot skillet, moving the meat as little as possible, and flipping only once, halfway through cooking. When done properly, the result is a spicy, crispy, attractively dark crust that gives way to a tender and juicy center. Blackened dishes, especially fish, are great with rice and fresh seasonable vegetables.