The Language of Food: Blackened
Blackened is one of many great ways to eat fish. If done properly, it is flavorful, crusty, and the meat remains moist and flaky. Problems arise when restaurants offer blackened fish and skimp on the blackened. My wife loves to eat blackened fish, but rarely can she find a restaurant that does it properly here in Texas. Understandably, she comes from Louisiana, so she holds some pretty high standards of blackened fish.
Blackened fish can be a very intense dish to eat. Not only is it charred on the outside, the spices can leave you breathless. Restaurants tend to tone down intense flavors like this to make the dish more palatable to the general public.
Let's take a look at Epicurious' Definition of Blackened:
A cooking technique made famous by New Orleans's chef Paul Prudhomme by which meat or fish is cooked in a cast-iron skillet that's been heated until almost red hot. Prudhomme's original specialty was blackened redfish. The food is customarily rubbed with a CAJUN spice mixture before being cooked. The extra hot skillet combined with the seasoning rub gives food an extra crispy crust.
That's not a bad definition. The only problem is that it fails to say that the exterior of the fish will be BLACK! Or at least very dark.
But don't be fooled by the carbonized nature of the name of this dish. If the fish is cooked right, the inside will be flaky and moist, and the only part that is black will be the spices and butter crust. By using the natural tendency of spices to burn, such as paprika and black pepper you are essentially creating a dark crust on the outside of the fish, leaving it intact on the inside.
Properly done, the fish is almost completely coated in a spice mixture. This is no time to skimp. Liberally coat the fish, press it into the flesh and shake off excess. Dip the fillets in butter and sear it to perfection.
The good part about blackened fish is that it is super easy to cook, if you have the means to do it outside. Since the recipe uses butter and a rocket-hot iron skillet, there is a high risk of flare up and fire danger. You should only attempt blackened fish if on an outside stove top or grill OR if you have a commercial vent hood and fire-suppression system.
It is a very fast way to cook fish. You actually spend more time waiting for the skillet to heat up than you do cooking. The outside is seared for 1.5-2 minutes per side. Boom ... you're done.