blackened fish

WaterLine photo by Chef Tim Spain

Blackened black drum, ready to serve in a cast iron skillet.

Recently a buddy and I were fishing at the sandbar by my house. We both caught keeper black drum, and that got me thinking about cooking one of them. Although we released both fish, I knew where to go to catch another one for this recipe.

I decided to blacken my drum. Usually I use a store-bought blackening seasoning and it works just fine. But then I remembered that we have a piece of art at the house hanging in our kitchen. It’s called blackened fish and it has the recipe for blackening seasoning. I decided to follow it and then share it with all of you.

As a chef, I don’t have time to make everything from scratch. Blackening seasoning is one of those things that I usually don’t make. As I was looking over the ingredients, I realized that probably most home kitchens have all the ingredients to make it already, except for dried lemon zest.

Dried lemon zest can be purchased at a local market, or you could do what I did and use a zester to make your own dried lemon zest. Just zest the lemon onto a plate and let it sit on your counter for a couple of hours and when you return to look at it, you will find that the zest has dried and its ready to be blended with and the other herbs and spices that go into blackening seasoning.

So where did blackening seasoning come from? I think it came from Haiti and was brought to America by the Creoles that migrated to the Mississippi basin. It found popularity in New Orleans and became a must-have in the restaurants of New Orleans — the most well-known being K-Paul’s Kitchen, opened by the late Chef Paul Prudhomme and is still operating to this day.

It’s a small spot — so small, in fact, that they do community seating. If there are two people sitting at a table with four chairs, they will sit two more people at that table even if they don’t know each other. I guess that might seem strange, but they just don’t care. The guests don’t seem to mind either, because the place is always packed and has been there for a very long time.

Looking at it from the eyes of a business owner, I think a restaurant must make money any way it can during a limited window of time, so if there’s a chair empty, put someone in it. You might also look at it as a way to make new friends.

When you read the ingredients of the blackening seasoning, you may notice that there isn’t much in it that is black. That’s because it isn’t the seasoning that turns black — it’s the milk fats from the melted butter that the fish is dipped in before it gets coated with the seasoning. If you order blackened fish and it’s a darker red color when it comes to the table, you know it was cooked with oil and not butter.

Blackened fish is wonderful all by itself, but I made a tartar sauce to go with mine. I used the same recipe I did with whole sheepshead (http://bit.ly/2UDmXKe) except I added a dash of hot sauce. Man, that’s good!

Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more information, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.

Blackened Black Drum

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp white pepper

3/4 tsp black pepper

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic powder

1-1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp crushed fennel seed

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1 tbsp sweet paprika

4 black drum fillets (6 oz each)

2 sticks of melted butter

Mix all the dry ingredients to make the blackening seasoning. If the fillets have skin or darker meat, remove them. Towel dry the fillets and dip them in melted butter, then dredge them in your homemade blackening seasoning. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high heat. Pour some of the leftover melted butter into the skillet. Carefully place fillets in the hot skillet and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Serves 4.

— Recipe by Chef Tim Spain, ChefTimSpain.com

Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more information, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.

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