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Blackened seasoning is a mixture of herbs and spices used to impart flavor and color during cooking. The ingredients of this mixture vary but may include salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, onion, thyme and oregano. Blackened seasoning is popular in Southern cuisine in the United States and is often used with seafood and chicken. Most chefs utilize these spice blends when cooking entrees over high, direct heat.
Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme is usually credited with developing the blackening technique using a redfish dipped in butter and seasonings. The fish is then cooked over high heat in an iron skillet. Prudhomme developed this method for a restaurant in New Orleans, and it gradually gained popularity throughout the South. This technique has since been adapted for use with other kinds of fish, poultry and meat.
Blackened seasoning can be purchased in the spice section of a grocery store or mixed together using ingredients a cook has on hand. Making a blackened seasoning mixture allows the cook to better control the flavor of the dish and limit sodium content for salt-sensitive diners. The cook also can control the amount of heat in the mixture by adding more or less pepper to the recipe. Homemade spice blends can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for several weeks or months.
The ingredients in these mixtures can vary significantly, depending on the region where the recipe was developed. Salt and black pepper are the two most common ingredients; paprika also is popular, because the red spice blackens nicely. Many recipes include a few other seasonings, such as garlic and onion, to add depth to the flavor. Many blends also include cayenne pepper, which adds a considerable amount of heat to the dish. Recipes also may include favorite regional flavorings such as celery seed or flavors that complement the type of meat or fish being cooked.
When cooking with blackened seasoning, the spice mixture should be applied heavily and evenly, so the surface of the meat will darken and finish with a nice crusting. While blackened entrees are traditionally cooked in an iron skillet, this method produces a tremendous amount of smoke. Cooks without a well-ventilated kitchen can opt to cook outside using a grill or a cast iron pan heated directly over charcoal. It is important to give the grill or pan time to pre-heat properly to char the spice mixture.