The man, the dish, the legend: Paul Prudhomme and blackened redfish
Chef Paul Prudhomme had been kicking around the recipe that would become blackened redfish for a few years. An early version of it, cooked on an open fire, appeared for a time on the menu at Mr. B’s. Then, in spring 1980, it happened. “When I decided to move over to K-Paul’s, I didn’t have a grill to do it, and I started looking for another way to do it,” Prudhomme told The Times-Picayune in 2005. “I hit on a cast-iron skillet after several tries. … The first night we did blackening was March of ’80. We did (it for) 30 or 40 people. It was a lot more than we expected. It seemed like within days the restaurant was full. And within weeks there were huge lines.'”
Prudhomme died on Oct. 8, 2015, but the Opelousas native’s legacy lives on. Not only did blackened redfish become ubiquitous, but it helped create a nationwide feeding frenzy for Cajun food that lingers today. His K-Paul’s restaurant continues to flourish under the direction of Chef Paul Miller.
- Blackened redfish was so popular in the 1980s that the state of Louisiana rewrote commercial harvesting regulations to avoid the species from being fished into extinction.
- K-Paul’s eventually put a limit on one order of blackened redfish per table. “We’d usually convince them to order one as an appetizer and everybody would taste it,” Prudhomme said.
- The “blackening” comes from dipping the fish in melted butter, covering it in a seasoning mix, then cooking it in a hot cast-iron skillet. The combination of the charred spices and the browned butter give the dish its color.
- In 1983, Prudhomme introduced his Magic Seasoning Blends, a line of dry spices, rubs, bottled sauces and marinades sold in grocery stores. Based in Harahan, it ships to all 50 states and 37 countries.
- Prudhomme authored more than a dozen cookbooks. His “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen” sold more than half a million copies after its 1984 release.
- Prudhomme served as the first non-European chef at Commander’s Palace from 1975-1980.
Imagining a New Orleans without tasso on restaurant menus is almost inconceivable, but Prudhomme was the one that brought many Cajun ingredients into the lexicon. Blackened redfish might be his signature dish, but Prudhomme brought Cajun cuisine to K-Paul’s, his eponymous restaurant, at a time when the cuisine was unheard of outside of Acadiana. In so doing, he exposed the world to the flavors of rural Louisiana — and few would debate that the world is better for it.