Are you looking for easy meals, healthy ones, or just a delicious and flavorful way to prepare chicken or fish? Having a jar of blackened seasoning ready to use in your pantry will streamline your goals and make it a snap to put together a memorable meal!
What does it mean when food is blackened?
I used to think that blackened chicken or blackened fish was just… burnt. I never ordered it when I saw it on a menu, because burnt chicken sounded really unappealing to me. Boy was I missing out!
While there is an element of charring that is characteristic of blackened meats and fish, the flavorful Cajun herb-and-spice blend, used as a dry rub, is even more important to calling something blackened.
Chef Paul Prudhomme of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans popularized the blackening spice blend and technique in the 1980s with his blackened redfish, but blackening seasoning is delicious on all kinds of fish and meats, or even to kick up the flavor of creamy pasta sauces!
So, okay, there is a little bit of burning that takes place when you blacken something, but it’s not really the meat or fish itself that gets burnt. Paul Prudhomme would dredge his redfish into melted butter and then coat it in the blackened seasoning blend. Then, when the fish was cooked in a very hot cast-iron skillet, the herbs, spices, and dairy solids from the butter would char a bit, forming a nice spicy crust with a brown-to-black appearance.
That charring, rather than making your food taste unpleasantly burnt, provides an added depth to the flavor (much like you get when browning butter vs. just melting it).
How do you use blackened seasoning?
Blackened seasoning, or blackening seasoning, is usually used as a dry spice rub on protein sources like chicken, shrimp, or fish.
Besides the redfish that made the technique famous, popular fish to blacken include salmon, grouper, catfish, tilapia, shrimp, and mahi-mahi. Blackened chicken is also a classic, or you can use the classic blend to spice up steak, pork, or even tofu!
Some of my favorite blackened foods are a blackened grouper sandwich with tomato and a little Cajun remoulade sauce, blackened salmon on a caesar salad, blackened shrimp on chipotle mac and cheese, or blackened mahi-mahi in a fish taco.
How to blacken fish, chicken, or other protein:
- Pat your protein dry. You don’t want your chicken or fish to steam, so removing excess water helps the spices stick better and helps you get that nice charred crust.
- Coat your meat or fish with melted butter (recommended) or cooking oil.
- Coat in blackening seasoning blend.
- For skin-on fish: Spoon the spice blend over the top to fully coat the non-skin side, and pat it down with dry hands to really adhere it to the surface.
- For skinless fish, steak, or pork chops: Spoon blackening seasoning over both sides and pat down with dry hands to adhere to the surface.
- For chicken or shrimp: Spoon a few tablespoons of blackening seasoning into a zippered plastic bag. Add your chicken or shrimp and shake it until they’re well-coated. Alternately, toss shrimp in a bowl with the seasoning, or spoon spices over chicken and pat down with your hands. I really love the thorough, even coating I get by shaking it in a bag though.
- Pre-heat a cast-iron skillet over medium. While high heat is more traditional, it sets off my smoke detector every time. Turn your vent fan on high and open a window if you can, too.
- Add your meat and cook for the recommended amount of time, flipping once in the middle. Don’t move it around too much or it won’t get that nice crust. Check how long you need to cook whatever you’re making! For skin-on fish, cook it longer on the skin side than the non-skin side so it has adequate time to get crispy!
Blackening skin-on fish:
Not all fish skin is created equal, or good to eat, but some fish skin can be delicious when cooked to a crisp!
Fish skin to eat:
- Salmon (yessss salmon skin!!)
- sea bass
- Catfish skin is good as well (and difficult to remove while the fish is raw), but score the skin first or it will curl the whole piece of fish during cooking.
Fish skin not to eat:
Make sure your fish skin is very dry before you cook it so it will crisp up rather than steaming and getting soggy! For blackening, I just add the seasoning to the non-skin side of the fish, and cook it for longer on the skin-down side so it has adequate time to crisp.
Is blackened seasoning healthy?
Great news! This homemade blackening seasoning is paleo, low carb, keto, gluten-free, and Whole30 compliant. Note: Some spices may contain trace amounts of gluten depending on the manufacturer, so do keep an eye on this if you are allergic to gluten! And if you’re following any of these diets, a nice blackened piece of meat or fish is so amazingly flavorful you won’t miss any of the stuff on your don’t-eat list.
Adding some blackening seasoning to a lean piece of meat or fish is a great way to punch up the flavor and stay healthy! A blackened salmon filet or blackened chicken over a Caesar salad is a fantastic meal in my book!
Storebought blackened seasoning can contain MSG, cornstarch, sugars, or other ingredients you may not want, but it’s so easy to whip up a batch of your own you don’t need to buy it ready-made.
Plus, you can customize it to your specific tastes or needs. Need a low-sodium version? Reduce or leave out the salt. Like it spicy, or not as spicy? Just adjust the amount of cayenne pepper.
How to store blackened seasoning
Store your spice blend in an airtight container away from light, heat, and moisture to keep them fresh, and it will last as long as your regular spices.
I made the mistake once of storing my spices in magnetized containers on the side of the fridge, which was right next to the stove, and guess what — all the steam and heat from boiling water and cooking made all my spices cake up and go stale. Don’t do what I did! Keep them in a cabinet, drawer, or pantry away from the stove.
Over time (after a year or so) the flavor will fade but you will still be able to eat it. This blackened seasoning is so good I’m sure you’ll use it up before the flavor fades! Just make sure the spices you use to make the blend are fresh too — it will only be as fresh as the ingredients you use!
Adjusting this recipe for the size of your jar
While I am storing this in an 8-oz spice jar, the recipe only fills it up about 3/4 of the way. A standard spice jar has a 4-oz. capacity, so if that’s what you’re trying to fill, here’s how to do it.
Look at the serving size on the recipe card below. It’s currently set to 6 oz. If you hover over the 6 (or on mobile, click on the 6) a slider will appear and you can adjust the quantity to 4 oz. Voila! You now have the correct ingredient quantities for your jar!
Homemade Blackening Seasoning for the Pantry
- 4 tbsp paprika Sweet, smoked, or a mixture
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp oregano
- 2 tbsp thyme
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 -2 tsp cayenne pepper to taste
- Add all ingredients to an airtight glass spice jar. Close and shake to combine.
- Store in a cool, dry place like a cabinet, drawer, or pantry. Use on everything!!