Out of the Bland and Into the Black

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With the recent passing of Mardi Gras, the food of Louisiana has been top of mind. I spent the first 10 years of my life there, making for a rich and flavorful culinary foundation. Although I’m sure I ate my fair share of chicken nuggets, “kid food” also included bold and spicy dishes like jambalaya, ettoufee, and just about any kind of meat or seafood (yes, that includes alligator) prepared with blackening seasoning. Blackening, as a preparation, is as common in Louisiana as frying. It’s on virtually every restaurant menu and used by home cooks in lieu of the usual salt and pepper to flavor seafood and poultry.

My mother likes to tell the story of when we moved to South Carolina (only briefly at the time) when I was 11 — after a few weeks in the new state, Louisiana having been my entire life experience at that point, I complained to my mother that “all the food here needs salt.” Everything seemed flavorless in comparison to what I knew. (No offense intended to South Carolina’s own rich culinary tradition.)

“Blackened” should not be confused with “spicy hot.” The spice blend has some cayenne, of course, but heat is not the dominant quality. The brilliance of blackening seasoning is that it adds intense flavor that is also always complementary to the protein at hand. It somehow manages to be both the star of the show and the supporting cast.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the spices that make up the blackening seasoning blend are common, everyday pantry staples — onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, etc. It’s the ratios and composition of these that make the spectacular blackening seasoning.

The recipe here is purported (by unverified internet sources) to be Paul Prudhomme’s very own blend. (Prudhomme was a celebrity chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author credited with popularizing Louisiana’s creole cuisine. He worked at the famous Commander’s Palace for some time, where he hired Emeril Legasse.) I don’t know if this is exactly his recipe, but I can tell you that it tastes exactly like what you will find all over Louisiana.

So what do you do with the spice mix? Season trout or shrimp with it and serve it over grits. Season chicken with it to serve straight up. Throw blackened chicken on a sandwich with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Turn blackened chicken into blackened chicken salad with a little mayo and celery. You can use it on just about any fish, shrimp, or chicken. The only rule is that you are liberal with the spices — the heavy-handed seasoning is partly what makes something “blackened.”

 

Blackening Seasoning Blend


EmilyYepesEmily Yepes is an advertising representative at Community Journals and a fitness instructor. She is “just” a home cook whose favorite hobby is to test and perfect recipes for her annual family cookbook.

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