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Big Bend Florida Sportsman Guide

 

How to Blacken Fish

By Big Wayne

 I like blackening best on firmer fish like amberjack. It is a fairly violent form of cooking and fish like snapper that are more delicate can't take as much abuse as something like amberjack. Blackened fish was invented by Paul Prudhomme to try to duplicate the flavor and style of charcoal grilling in a commercial kitchen. He describes the method very well in at least two of his cookbooks. The one I have is called something like the Prudhomme family cookbook and is from around 1987. Many chain restaurants have spoiled the name and style of blackening by dredging fish and other meats in spices, frying it in a pan and calling it blackening. Unless you are at a good quality La. style restaurant, you are not likely getting the real deal.  

The blackening comes from the butter charring in the pan, not from the spices. When the butter chars the instant it lands in the pan, it creates a sealing crust on the fish that keeps it from drying out.  

You need a cast iron skillet, nothing else will do. If you are feeding a crowd, you can use a large 12+ inch one if you have a big enough heat source. The original method is for single servings in a small cast iron skillet as would be done in a commercial kitchen 

If you have been frying fish, you likely have a perfect heat source if you have one of those outdoor frying stands as are sold for Turkey or fish frying. Most gas grills do not generate  enough heat. Do not try to do it in your kitchen. My first attempt was indoors back when I was single and I figured it can't be too bad. The book tells you not to do it indoors for good reason, the smoke it generates is prodigious and nasty. If you only have the gas grill, you have two options. One, take the cooking grate off your grill. Turn it on as high as it will go. Take a large cast iron skillet and heat it up on your stove inside as hot as it can get, until you see a little white ash on the seasoning of the pan.

Carry it out carefully and place it directly on the rocks in your grill. Start cooking.  

The second option is to take the the little gas jets and bore them out slightly larger so the grill runs hotter. This is probably against some governmental regulations, but it works. Again, place the pan directly on the rocks.  

If you have a gas fryer stand and a big enough cast iron pan to fit on it without burning yourself, that is the best option. Get it hot enough to see the white ash and get started. In this setup, you do have to watch the heat to make sure you don't get it too hot.  

The main part of the cooking - have your fish be about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick if possible. If it is thicker, it will be tough to get it cooked right without burning. Dredge the fish completely in melted butter. Sprinkle a spice mix moderately on the fish. Paul Prudhomme's mixes are good, but you can use whatever you like. The spice is not the key part of the cooking method. Do not put the fish down while sprinkling or at any time between the butter dredging and hitting the pan. Lay the fish in the pan and immediately spoon a tablespoon of melted butter over the top of it. Be careful, it sometimes flames up.  

Cook 2-3 minutes and then flip. Spoon another tablespoon of butter over the fish. Cook another 2-3 minutes and it's done.  Of course, when cooking amberjack, be sure to trim the blood line out. I find it easiest to lay the fillet on the cutting board with the blood line down and trim out the "spine" all the way along the fish. Then I cut at an angle to get the rest of the red stuff. Having the part you are working on pressed tight to the board makes it easier for me. For blackening, you want to cut the meat into pieces you can easily handle with a large spatula. Typically 4"x6" or so. If the fish is thicker than 3/4", butterfly it or simply slice that piece laterally in half to make two thinner pieces. 

Wanted to add a few things here after the BBB. Didn't have any AJ to blacken there so it was mostly snapper and a little bit of grouper. The snapper and grouper turned out fine being blackened.  

As I was prepping the fish for cooking in the mad frenzy near the fish fryers, I fished some kingfish out of the bucket and managed to cut a few hunks of it up for blackening as well. I saved it for last since I didn't know what would happen.  By the time I got around to cooking the kingfish, I had run out of the Paul Prudhomme seasoning, so I borrowed some seasoning from the smoker chefs which looked and smelled like some sort of a BBQ rub. I put the kingfish in my melted butter pan with a handful of the rub and slathered it around and then tossed it in the pan. It ended up coming out quite well. There was none of the usual kingfish strong taste. In fact, the only real difference in taste from the snapper was from the texture, which was a bit softer in the kingfish. Next time I have some fresh kingfish, I'm trying this again. 

 

Blackened Amberjack by Sea Monkey 

I usually take my iron skillet and put it on the grill with the heat on high for about 30 minutes. The skillet gets hot but not white hot. Then I use some cajun seasoning and butter. I do dredge the fish. It turns out great but the spice can be a little overpowering to the taste of the fish. I usually throw in a dab of butter then put the fish on top, then after 2-3 minutes I throw in another dab and flip the fish on top of the butter. I got burned last time I did that so I like the idea of melting the butter first then dredging the fish through the butter and lightly sprinkling the seasoning. I do have a turkey fryer and I'm ready to go get some AJs. I've eaten blackened fish a k-Pauls in New Orleans and mine never turned out as good as his.