Blackening 101

Now for the main event…….  BLACKENING!

How many of you have eaten at a restaurant and fallen in love with a blackened dish? I know I have…..chicken and halibut have been a favorite for a long time. I want to show you just how simple it can be.

If you’ve never tried blackened dishes, rest assured, it’s not burnt. The seasonings slightly char through the quick, high heat cooking method, and the spices release a natural smoky and spicy flavor.

Tonight I chose salmon.  Living in Alaska my family has the opportunity to partake in some pretty amazing salmon fishing and we are lucky enough to have a freezer full by the end of the season, so I’m using what I have and trying something new. I need to make one thing abundantly clear before we begin..

“DO THIS OUTSIDE!”    Unless for some reason you enjoy the process of fumigating your home.

First…obtain a salmon filet and remove the skin of the fish, being careful not to tear into the flesh.

Salmon have something called “pin bones”. These little bones run down the middle of the filet and can be bothersome and tedious to remove if you are not armed with the following tip….USE TWEEZERS! My husband has used needle nose pliers for years to remove these fragile, thin little bones. After using tweezers, he is a changed man! Think about it, a tool designed to grab little tiny hairs and grip them well enough to pull them out? Ya, it’s a perfect weapon for these little pin bones! The picture below shows the process…..

Pin Bone Removal

After you have removed the pin bones from the length of the filet, slice the fish into serving size pieces. I have large boys in my home….no dainty servings need apply! The picture below shows the appropriate size.

Serving Size Pieces

There are a gazillion recipes out there for blackening seasoning, and I’ve made a whole array of them. However, for this 101, I am going to show you just how easy it can be. I am a firm believer in learning the technique before experimenting and playing with variations of flavor. Thus, I encourage you on your first attempt to purchase the pre-made blackening seasoning, or its counterpart, Cajun seasoning which has many of the same components. Both are available at most grocery stores. *Note: We used Cajun seasoning for this demonstration.

In a small bowl, melt one stick of butter….please use real butter and not margarine! Brush the melted butter on all sides of your fish pieces.

Sprinkle your fish liberally with the seasoning. Now here is where your own personal taste comes in….The more you sprinkle on your fish, the more of a spicy little KICK you will have in the end. If you can handle the heat, sprinkle the seasoning over the fish until you can no longer see the flesh. Since I was feeding children, I held back a little and just gave it a liberal sprinkling. In any case, you are looking for a crust of sorts to develop on your fish during the cooking process, so please don’t be shy!

Now the fun part (and where I hand over the cooking reins) THE GRILL! You know the foreboding sound effects they use in movies….enter your favorite sound here… I am not, in any shape or form, a grill master. So I married one :) Clever me huh?

For this technique you need a cast iron skillet…this is essential and non-negotiable! No other pan can stand up to the heat of the inferno you are about to create inside of your grill. When I say you’re gonna have a hot grill, I ain’t messin around! Find a skillet that fits inside your grill and allows the lid to close.  For anyone with a gas grill…. let me apologize up front. I don’t have one…love the flavor that only charcoal can impart, therefore can only give directions for a charcoal grill.

We started (I say WE loosely) by setting the pan on the grill first, to determine where we needed to mound the coals. Believe me, you will not want to move the blazing coals later. The goal is to have a mound of coals that are directly under (about an inch) your pan, then let er’ rip! I want to BURY THE NEEDLE (it just sounds like you’re doing something amazing when you say that) See picture below.


Place your skillet back over the heat and wait….and wait…and wait. You want it to be screaming hot. Some people say white-hot, but I find that you go crazy waiting for it to turn white, when realistically, you just want screaming hot. Makes more sense to me, if you touched it you would what? SCREAM! You do NOT need to put oil on the pan, nothing sticks when it’s this hot.

Dry Cast Iron Skillet

When your pan is ready and your grill is holding a super high heat, quickly place your fish pieces on the skillet. Do this as quick as you can then immediately replace the lid, try to avoid loosing heat. The cooking time will of course vary depending on the thickness of your fish. Mine cooked for 2 minutes on each side and was perfect. You do not want to overcook your fish, it will continue cooking after you remove it from the grill. If your fish is on the thicker side, increase the cooking time slightly, however check often. When the seasonings are black you need to flip it.

Don’t be alarmed if you are engulfed by smoke when you lift the lid…remember the warning of having to fumigate your home. This is why! It is perfectly normal :) I apologize for the dark picture below, if my husband would have lost his perfect grill temperature, it wouldn’t have been just the fish that suffered. It was, “TAKE THE SHOT HONEY” and close the lid.


After both sides of the fish are sporting blackened seasonings, remove it from the grill. Please do not attempt to remove the pan from the grill for a while, you won’t enjoy the results. Here’s the important part- Eat It While It’s Hot!

Two of my children are not fish fans….not at all! We asked them to try it and- well we won a few hearts last night. My youngest has the most amazing and inventive reasons for why he doesn’t like certain things. He “doesn’t like his chicken to get mashy” when it touches potatoes. Sometimes his “noodles get too saucied up” if he thinks he might not like the new marinara I created. I laugh…and then make him try it anyways. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Look below as he tries with skepticism, knowing ahead of time that he won’t like it. Then notice the ultimate bliss derived from flavor sensation in the second picture. Haha Parents 1, Kids 0

I will eat this on a train, I will eat this in the rain…I will eat this with a goat, I will eat this in a coat!

 Thanks to the insanely high heat, your fish quickly obtains a nice blackened crust…yet the inside of each piece stays moist and almost creamy like only salmon can.

Moist And Delicious

When we grill, we love to serve ”family style” and hot off the grill. There is usually a community plate that we dig into and quickly devour. There is nothing better than food hot off the grill, it’s the only way to do it in my book! The picture above did not garner me any praise…I was fending off forks like a samurai warrior, quickly making me the LEAST favorite person at the table.

So there it is….simple and unforgettably delicious! Now that you see how easy it is….feel free to play around with your spices. There are a ton of blackening spice recipes on the web to experiment with! If you have any further questions regarding ingredients, supplies, or technique, please feel free to shoot me an email with your question using the ”Contact Me” tab on the home page.

*Special Thanks to my Pit Master Mate….another example of the unstoppable duo! Thank you for being able to do the things that I can’t, you will forever be the peanut butter to my jelly.

Signing Off,

Modern Mrs. Cleaver

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7 Responses to Blackening 101

  1. Gerald

    Really nice article Britt. I have to give this one a try. Now where that cheapy O aluminum fry pan!

    • Although I’m sure you could get a cheapy O aluminum pan to work… my recommendation is cast iron. Nothing makes a crust quite like cast iron! Lodge Logic and Lodge Pro both make good skillets, find the cheapest one that fits your grill size and you won’t regret it. PLUS, with cast iron, you won’t be replacing it any time soon :)

  2. jim

    Thats some tasty lookin fish brit!

  3. Thanks for your comments on our blog! You have some great information here. I really like this article…I have been wanting to try this for some time but haven’t found some good instructions. Thanks!

    • Its so quick and easy, and yet it tastes like an expensive meal from a restaurant. I know that not everyone has a huge supply of salmon, but I love to share recipes that make the most of my resources. Glad you enjoyed :)

  4. Jeannean

    So you recommend doing it outside. I tried it the house the first time I did it years ago and set off all the smoke dectors and filled not only the kitchen but the whole downstairs with smoke. Being older and wiser (LOL) I now I have an outdoor burner I use for Beaufort boil and all deep fat frying of seafood. I just turn that sucker on, get my largest cast iron frying pan and off I go.!!! Living in the deep South it is amost always warm enough to cook outside.

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