How to Blacken Chicken and Seafood
The simple, flavorful technique was born in New Orleans.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Perhaps you're reading a restaurant menu right now and see the term "blackened" used to describe the preparation of chicken or fish.
Blackening became popular in the very early 1980s when Chef Paul Prudhomme spearheaded the technique at his New Orleans-based restaurant K Paul's. Chef Prudhomme dipped redfish in butter, dredged it in a blend of Cajun and Creole herbs and spices (flavors from two prominent cuisines in Louisiana) and cooked it in a hot cast iron pan. His famous dish, blackened redfish, was born.
To this day, most recipes follow Prudhomme's blackening technique. It's still a popular preparation style in New Orleans, and indeed across the country.
What Is Blackening Food?
Food that is blackened isn't burnt; it's simply coated in a special spice blend that takes on a very dark brown, almost black color when cooked in a skillet, on a grill or in an oven.
Blackened food almost always means blackened meat, chicken or seafood, including fish and shellfish like shrimp. Blackening spices are a blend that uses traditional herbs and spices from both Cajun and Creole cooking.
What Does Blackened Food Taste Like?
When chicken and fish are buttered, coated in the blackened spice blend of your choice and cooked over medium to medium-high heat, the surface of the meat takes on a crisp, almost caramelized texture and a buttery-spicy flavor that has a rich flavor. Spices cooked in with fat take on a deep earthy flavor, as opposed to the bitter or dry, dusty taste of uncooked spices. Blackened chicken or fish do have spices and some spiciness, but they shouldn’t be too spicy-hot to eat. You don’t want a blend that’s so hot it overpowers the flavor of the other herbs and spices; you want to taste all of them in the blend. Blackened food should not have the bitter flavor of burnt food.
What's the Difference Between Blackening and Charring?
Don't confuse these two terms. Unlike blackening, charring doesn't invovle herbs and spices. Charred food is simply food that's intentionally burnt to develop smoky flavor. For example, one might char shishito peppers in a skillet and a little olive oil over medium-high heat so they blister and turn black in places.
How to Blacken Fish and How to Blacken Chicken
Blackening chicken and fish is a simple process. You season the protein, coat it with butter and cover it with herbs and spices. The spices and the butter brown much faster than plain, uncoated chicken or fish would, due in part to the fact that most blackening spice blends contain sugar, which speeds up the caramelizing process. Here is the basic method.
- Season the chicken or fish with all over with kosher salt and black pepper.
- Brush the protein all over with melted butter.
- Rub the protein with a spice blend until it's completely coated.
- Grill the protein over indirect heat or pan-sear over medium until it's cooked and crusted dark brown.
Blackening Spice Rub Recipe
The typical spice blend for blackening is a mix of thyme, oregano, paprika, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper. Depending on the recipe you use, the proportions will change. Cajun and Creole spice blends are very similar to the blends used for blackening. Cajun blends tend to have more of the spicy pepper ingredients, whereas Creole spice blends are a bit more refined, with fewer spicy spices and more herbs. You can find Cajun and Creole spice blends in every grocery store. If you try them and like them, any of them will give you an easy way to save time and put blackened food on the table faster. Or use one of our recipes, below, and if you love the flavor combo, make a big batch and keep it in your pantry.
This recipe is courtesy of the restaurant Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen. All you need is 8 ingredients.
1 1/2 cups paprika
1/2 cup onion powder
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup ground thyme
6 tablespoons ground oregano
5 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
Mix paprika, onion powder, salt, thyme, oregano, garlic powder, cayenne and black pepper in a bowl. Store in an airtight container.
Blackened Fish and Chicken Recipes
Blackened salmon served in a shallow bowl with black-eyed peas and spinach is not traditional, per say, but it really works. We love a bit of broth whenever we’re having beans.
This blackened, spatchcocked chicken dish makes brilliant use of the potatoes that cook with it on the grill: they weigh down the chicken. Instead of chick under a brick, it's chicken under potatoes!
Blackened salmon is so simple and quick when you cook it in a pan. The top of the fish gets a gorgeous sear.
Putting blackened shrimp in a Po’Boy is a recipe that screams NOLA. Cooking the shrimp on the stove makes it simple.
An overnight soak in a sugar-and-salt brine means this blackened chicken starts off with some serious flavor that only gets even better after buttering, spicing and grilling.