Braydon and I met twenty years ago. It was just about half our lifetimes ago. The first half of his life — believe it or not (many people who know him today would have a hard time believing it) — Braydon was not a foodie. He had spent most of his teen years eating fast food (seriously. Arby’s! Taco Bell!), he had no bandwidth for anything out of the mainstream of the American status quo food of the time, and his favorite thing to eat was fried chicken fingers with honey mustard dipping sauce. He really, honestly, had no interest in food. And he definitely couldn’t have cared less about what he was drinking. He was one of those people who would sometimes “forget to eat” (something I never in a million years could relate to). He’d take forever to order off a menu — not because it was hard to choose, but simply because he really didn’t care. However, when he finally would pick something, I can absolutely guarantee you that he would never have picked a blackened mahi mahi sandwich.
Fast forward to now and Braydon is a serious foodie. He will try, and will enjoy, just about anything and everything. And he is all about the fine wine and rare-breed-small-batch-liquor. One of his favorite things to eat is blackened fish — preferably as a sandwich on a nice crusty roll, but blackened fish as a dinner entree with rice and veggies comes in a close second. And — if at all possible — he likes this best if eating it with his feet in the sand (or close to it) in some warm, tropical, beautiful place that is hard to get to. If he can have it with a cold crisp glass of a wonderful oaky Chardonnay… well… that’s just about heaven to him. My man has become quite the food and drink lover. I like how he’s changed.
We’ve had some incredible and memorable meals together in the past twenty years. In the category of “Blackened Fish” (we’ve eaten a lot of great blackened fish) two meals particularly stand out.
The first involved the best blackened mahi mahi sandwich that we’ve ever had. We were on vacation in Virgin Gorda (post is here); our best vacation ever. This was before Meera was born, and Kyle and Owen were three. We went for lunch one day at the Pavillion restaurant at a beautiful resort called Little Dix Bay. Lunch was an elaborate buffet with multiple stations with gorgeous and delicious food options. Kyle, Owen, and I were in dreamland as we explored the food and began enjoying it. Braydon, however, had a different idea. And what proceeded to happen was the singular moment at which I knew that my husband had become a fully certifiable 100% for real Foodie with a capital “F.” The server came to our table, and Braydon explained that what he really wanted was not on the buffet. He was hoping that he could get a grilled, blackened, fish sandwich, and he inquired as to if they had fresh fish and if that would be possible. He was assured, of course (this is a very nice place), that indeed they do have fresh caught mahi mahi, and they’d be more than happy to grant his wish. Shortly thereafter Braydon was biting into the most incredible sandwich of his lifetime.
The second involved a blackened grouper dinner. We were on vacation (non-coincidental pattern: most of our best meals are on vacation) in Sand Key, Florida (post is here). I was in my third trimester, pregnant with Meera at the time, and the boys were still little and going to bed around 7pm. In those days, whenever we’d stay at a hotel, after the boys were in bed, Braydon would go out to find a good restaurant and he’d get us take-out for our dinner. It was our first night at Sand Key, and Braydon came back to our hotel room with two white styrofoam take-out boxes in a plastic bag. He had found some local fish joint real close to the hotel, sat at the bar, and asked what fish was freshest. They said grouper, so he asked for two blackened grouper dinners. We took the food out onto the balcony of the room, and — overlooking the parking lot, squished together in two plastic chairs, me six-months-pregnant, and us eating with plastic forks — we ate one of the most delicious dinners of our lives. It was the grouper, rice pilaf, and some stir-fried veggies. It was so simple, but the fish was so fresh, and the flavors were memorable. Right now, as I type this, my mouth is just watering thinking of that dinner. We got that same dinner again each night of our stay.
Both of those experiences inspired me to try to master the art of blackened fish at home. As it turned out, it was not really an “art” at all, but a super simple, easy, quick thing to make. And — especially if the fish is nice and fresh — this makes my husband’s heart sing.
Mahi mahi and grouper are both great fish to use for this because they are quite firm. But really, any good, fresh, relatively firm fish will do. We are lucky here at Harbor Island because wild mahi mahi is caught right off these shores, so it is easy and relatively cheap to buy it fresh off the boat.
You’ll be shocked how good this is for something so quick, easy, and simple to prepare!!!
- You can make your own blackening seasoning, but really: who has time for that? Instead, just buy a good one. I really like this one: Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends ‘Blackened Redfish Magic.” You can usually find this in the spice section of your food market.
- Pat the fish dry, and rub a nice thick layer of the seasoning mix onto one side of each piece. Be sure to make extra so that you’ll have plenty of leftovers.
- Get a good pan heated up well on medium-high heat. Once it is really good and hot, put about two tablespoons of butter into the pan and — very quickly, before the butter can burn or get really dark — swirl it around. Note: if you don’t do this fast, the butter will burn. Don’t let that happen. If that does happen, wipe it all out with paper towels, and start over. Don’t ruin the fish with burnt butter.
- Place the fish pieces into the pan seasoned-side down to start. Let them sit (don’t move the pan around) so that they can get a nice seared blackened ‘crust.’ This should only take about 1-2 minutes because the pan should be quite hot.
- Once a nice seared crust has formed, carefully flip the fish over to cook on the other side. Drizzle fresh lemon juice on the fish and remove the pan from the heat to let sit for a few minutes (probably no more than 3-4) to cook through. The entire process should take more than 5-6 minutes (you want to avoid over-cooking and drying out the fish).
- Serve with rice and veggies. ~AND/OR~ make into sandwiches right away. If you eat as a dinner entree, be sure to save extra for sandwiches the next day. This keeps well in the fridge overnight. Just heat up the fish a bit in the microwave the next day, and place on nice crusty roll with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. If you have some mango salsa, you can put that on there too. But Braydon and I are purists where the blackened fish sandwich goes, and we prefer it plain and simple.