Cooking & Tidbits – Vernon Summerlin

Cook it Till it’s Black

I fell in love with blackened fish at first taste. Cajun spices make whoopee with my taste buds. This was maybe a quarter century ago when I was in Louisiana dining on redfish. Of course when I got home I had to heat up my passion using freshwater fish, namely thick crappie fillets.

YamahaThe one fault with my young love affair was the heart-burning smoke. I made the mistake of not turning on the exhaust fan over the stove to maximum. I had no idea how much mucus membrane damage the fiery seasonings can do when inhaled – and so quickly too. Heed this warning: Cook where there is plenty of ventilation!

After I got out of the hospital (kidding!), I took my passion outside to continue my affection for burned, hot spices. It took a little longer to heat the big old skillet on my gas grill but there was plenty of fresh air.

Blackening is a cooking technique often associated with Cajun cuisine. This technique was popularized by Chef Paul Prudhomme. He used it to cook fish and other foods. The fish is dipped in melted butter and then dredged in a mixture of herbs and spices, usually some combination of thyme, oregano, chili pepper, peppercorns, salt, garlic powder and onion powder. It is then cooked in a very hot cast-iron skillet.

DD OutdoorThe characteristic brown-black color of the crust results from a combination of browned milk solids from the butter and charred spices. Did I mention that I love charred spices?

While the original recipe called for redfish, the same preparation can be applied to other types of fish and meats, such as steak or chicken cutlets.

TIP: Ground spices die quickly. So give them a whiff—if they don’t smell like anything, they won’t taste like anything. And if they don’t taste like anything, you’re cooking with a flavorless, brown powder.

Blackened Crappie

            6 thick crappie fillets (slabs)

            2 teaspoons paprika

            2 1/2 teaspoons salt

            1 teaspoon onion powder

            1 1/2 teaspoon garlic

            1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

            2 teaspoons lemon-pepper marinade #1*

            1 teaspoon ground thyme

            1 1/2 teaspoons basil

            1 cup unsalted butter, melted

            Canola oil for frying

            Lemon wedges

valleyfashions-logo-websiteHeat mamma’s big old iron skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on the cast iron (or about 10 minutes). Combine paprika, salt, onion powder, cayenne pepper, lemon-pepper marinade, thyme and basil in a large bowl. Keep fillets cold until ready to use. Dip each fillet in melted butter so that sides are slippery. Sprinkle seasoning mix on both sides. Place seasoned fillets on waxed paper while preparing remaining fillets. Place three fillets in your skillet. Drizzle each fillet with 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Make sure you are in a well-ventilated place because there will be a lot of smoke (I recommend you have your exhaust fan on high or cook outside on your grill). Cook quickly, about two minutes per side. Remove and repeat process until all fillets are cooked. Serve while hot with lemon wedges.

*Lemon-Butter Marinade #1

            1 cup butter

            1/3 cup lemon juice

            1/4 cup chopped parsley

            1 tablespoon salt

            1 tablespoon grated lemon peel,

            1 teaspoon sugar

            1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add lemon juice, parsley, salt, lemon peel, sugar and pepper. Stir until smooth. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

            If you’re looking for a simple marinade to bathe your filets in before frying try this:

Lemon-Pepper Marinade #2

            1 tablespoon lemon rind, grated

            3 tablespoons lemon juice

            3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

            4 garlic cloves, crushed

            1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked

            1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large glass bowl. Chill marinade for 30 minutes to an hour for flavors to blend. Stir thoroughly. Add your fish and stir to cover fillets. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes before frying.

Tip: You may have a steel or a sharpener at home, but once a year get a pro to revive those knives. Your chopping will get faster, more precise and safer.

Pan Fried Dilly Fish

            4 fresh slab crappie fillets

            3 tablespoons softened salted butter

            2 tablespoons dill, fresh finely minced dill

            2 tablespoons olive

Prepare dill-butter in advance by adding dill to softened butter (room temp) and mix thoroughly and set aside. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in skillet. Decrease heat to medium and cook fillets 2 minutes per side. Add dill-butter to skillet and cook fillets 1 more minute per side or until fish flakes easily.

            If you like peppery spices, whip up these puppies.

Jalapeno Hush Puppies

            1 1/2 cup cornmeal

            1/2 cup flour

            2 1/2 tablespoon baking powder

            1 1/2 tablespoon salt

            1/2 tablespoon pepper

            1/3 cup finely chopped onion

            1 cup milk

            1 beaten egg

            3 tablespoon oil

            1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers (or more)

            Canola oil

Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, onion, milk, egg, oil and peppers. Stir until blended. Using a spoon or fork drop into deep, hot oil. Dip spoon or fork in hot oil each time. The batter will drop off more easily. Fry until golden. Turn once during cooking. Drain and serve.

Italian-Style Green Beans with Tomatoes
3/4 pound green beans
1/2 cup red onion rings
1/4 cup Italian dressing
2 tomatoes cut into thin wedges
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Place green beans, onion and dressing in microwaveable bowl and cover. Microwave on high (8 to 10 minutes) until beans are tender-crisp. Stir after 2 minutes and stir in tomatoes and basil.