Friday, June 6, 2014

Blast from the Past

by Sheila Connolly

At our local supermarket this past weekend, we stopped by the fish counter (where we’ve made friends with the nice lady behind the counter). They had a new variety of fish! (It tells you something about the sad selection of available fish when you find yourself getting excited about a new item.) Only it wasn’t new, exactly. It’s redfish, and a little bell rang in my head. Now, where have I heard of that before?

The answer is: Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish, ca. 1982. Anybody here remember that craze? Chef Prudhomme made a one-night appearance cooking for a restaurant in San Francisco when I was working there, and a friend and I tried to go, but just missed the cutoff—the waiting line numbered in the hundreds.

So what was old is now new, and redfish has returned! I had to go hunting for a recipe, and was mildly appalled: all the versions seem to call for sticks upon sticks of butter. You cook the fish with it, and if there’s any left, you put it on the side. I guess it makes sense, for that time: big hair, big shoulders, big…cholesterol?

This is not a healthy dish, but it’s a trip down memory lane.

Blackened Redfish

8 4-ounce boneless, skinless redfish filets, about half an inch thick (you could substitute red snapper)

The spices
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried basil
¼ tsp dried oregano
2 tsp sweet paprika
½ cup melted butter (or more!)

Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. (Note: do not substitute fresh herbs for the dried ones—they will not cook correctly)

Redfish filets (this is about a pound)
Put some of the butter in a shallow dish (or pie pan). Dip the fish filets on both sides in the melted butter. Set them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle both sides with the spice mixture, pressing into the fish pieces.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (warm/low).

Ready to cook

Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat for at least five minutes. (Do not add oil or butter!) This has to be really hot! (Do I need to add, turn on your range fan and open your windows?) The bottom of the pan should look greyish.

Add two or more of the coated fish filets, then pour a teaspoon of butter on top of each. (Don’t worry if it catches fire. I did remind you to turn the fan on, right? And stand back to avoid the flames. And maybe turn off your smoke alarm—but remember to turn it back on!) 

Cook at high heat for about a minute and a half, or until charred. Turn the filets over and pour another teaspoon of butter over each piece. Cook another minute or so.

Put the cooked pieces on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven, and continue until you’ve cooked all your fish filets.

Serve with whatever melted butter is left over. (Ha!)

Almost charred. You may recognize the Thai bean salad,
and the creamy slaw is a tribute to our guest earlier
this week (and helps to cut the spiciness of the fish!)

Okay, my pan was smoking, and so were the fish and the butter. But I never reached blackened. Still, the fish tasted good, and was surprisingly moist, even though the filets were thin and the temperature was high. Must be all that butter.

Oh, yes, there's that book that came out this week! 

Nell Pratt doesn't go into details about her meals--she might be a bit distracted by the bodies she keeps finding. But I'll be in West Chester PA, where the story takes place, for a signing next week, and I'll be sure to check out the food scene.


  1. The fish looks lovely. I don't think it needed to be "blacker", but that's just me.
    Just a little butter, huh? No wonder it tastes good!

  2. I remember that phase well! We blackened everything it seemed. It was good though and nice to think about a revival.

  3. It looks great Sheila, and congrats on the book!

  4. I agree with Libby, it doesn't have to be black. In fact it probably tastes every bit as good and is healthier if it isn't black. I *do* remember those days. It seemed like they blackened everything. There wasn't a menu anywhere that didn't have at least one blackened entree. Thanks for the memories!


  5. Thanks for the recipe. I love seafood blackened.

    Dru Ann

  6. You know what, it's refreshing to see a good ole' comfort dish like this. I'm tired of avocados and Canola oil recipes.