Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blackened Salmon

It is starting to look like spring has really arrived! The skies have been a brilliant robin’s egg blue with white puffy clouds, the trees are budding, the birds abound and the grass is greening up. I live in a seriously beautiful place at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Northern Colorado. When it is so beautiful outside, I want to enjoy long walks and don’t get back home to cook quite as early as I did in the winter. I still want to have something wonderful to serve my family and friends, but I want it to be something I can get on the table quickly. My blackened salmon and lemony risotto fit the bill perfectly. So today I will post the Salmon recipe.
Salmon- you have heard multiple times how good it is for you. Seriously, we should eat salmon a couple times a month or more. Some say every week but that can be difficult. A decade or so ago, I kept hearing about the health benefits of salmon and I determined to cook it more. However, I had eaten it a few times and didn’t really think I liked it. Fish has been a slowly acquired taste for me. So I looked for a way to cook it that I would like and settled on blackened. I found out I that I enjoyed salmon cooked this way!
“Blackened” means that it has a nice crust of spicy goodness that gets dark and intense. It does not mean to char the fish black. I have made this for many years, mixing up the spice concoction by taste and mood of the day. It always varies. But, in order to share this recipe I have been endeavoring to come up with a basic mix of spice and herbs. The one here is not too spicy and can be adapted. For kids or those who dislike heat in spice, skip the red pepper and cumin. If you want to make this a little different, skip the dill and thyme, add more cumin and a tsp of cinnamon for a Moroccan like flair. For a lemon-spice salmon, lower the pepper and cumin and add some lemon juice before the spice mixture and at the end to finish the dish off. You should experiment to find out what you like but first try it this way and see what you think.
To skin or not to skin…Some people prefer to leave the skin on salmon to serve but I remove the skin. If you like the skin, skip those steps and leave it on.  Just put the spice on the skinless side and cook it up. Another preference I have is to cook the salmon a little longer than some folks do. We like it that way but if you prefer, reduce the cooking a bit. Recipes are not rules; they are guidelines to be individualized!
As you can see in the photo, I like to serve this with a risotto or rice dish. I will post my Lemony risotto recipe next for a nice company meal. I add a steamed vegetable or roasted asparagus and perhaps a salad with lemon vinaigrette with a light dessert for the menu. If I am low on time, I serve this salmon with plain basmati rice and it is still a wonderful meal and perhaps more kid friendly.
How to make Blackened Salmon

Select a nice piece of salmon, about 1/3 lb per person. Any wild caught salmon can be a good choice. I like it much better than farm raised and so I usually find it worth the price. I like to use wild sock-eye salmon but I get whatever is a good deal and looks the best for the money. I have no problem using frozen salmon; it still tastes great.
Fillets should have firm texture, not separating or feathering. It should not smell fishy or feel slimy. I like thick pieces of fish if available but choose quality over thickness. Color varies with the type of salmon so don’t use color as a guide. Cook salmon as soon as possible, one or two days is best. If you are keeping it longer, salmon does freeze well. Do not let salmon sit out, in your car or on your counter. Fish spoils quickly and is very bad indeed!
To cook I rinse the fillet and pat dry. Using tweezers I keep in the kitchen for this purpose, I pull out any bones I find. If fillet is too big for the pan, cut it up.
This is a step you can include or skip, but if I have time, I like to start by roasting my spices a bit. I like to take a heavy pan, heat it and toss in about 2ish Tablespoons of the blackening spices(recipe below). Cook for a minute or two, stirring. You will notice it getting fragrant but don’t directly inhale it, it can be strong.  BEFORE it starts smoking, pour it onto a plate.
OR just start by pouring  a Tablespoon or two of spice mix (recipe below) on a plate.
In the same heavy pan, heat a few tsp of oil. You can skip the oil if you have a nice thick skin on the salmon and a non-stick pan. Press the skinless side of salmon into spice. Shake off excess. Lay salmon skin side down in pan. Let it heat in hot pan until the skin is getting a bit crispy and pulls away. Pick up with spatula and flip. Using spatula and tongs or whatever works, pull skin off fillet. Discard. Press a bit of spice on this side now. After a couple minutes, carefully turn over with spatula, trying not to lose the spicy crust. Cook a minute or so and see if it is done how you like it. I like salmon somewhat well done that is firm and pale pink throughout just beginning to be flaky but not too dry. Or cook until there is just a translucent shiny bit in the middle. Some people like it rarer than that. It is a personal thing.
I like to time this to be ready to serve when it is done. If you must, cover and keep warm for a few minutes.

Blackening spice basics
Make up the spice blend that may be used for 4-6 lb or so salmon or other fish or chicken. Once you make it store in a cool, dry place and use as needed. When using this to make fish, take out just what you need and throw away any that is left on the plate.
Vary the flavor by changing up the mix to suit your taste.
4 tsp, paprika
3 Tsp. old bay spice or other seafood mix ( if you don’t have this, use more  paprika, red pepper, onion, garlic  and maybe cumin or ginger)
3 tsp. Thyme
1 ½-2 tsp. garlic powder
1 ½-2 tsp. onion powder
1 ½-2 tsp, Dill or better yet Dill blend (such as Deliciously Dill with lemon, ginger)
2  tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon pepper
1-2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground red pepper
½-1 tsp cumin
½ tsp ginger

Mix these together and if not using right away, store in airtight container.

Thanks to Zac and Kaitlyn for the nice photos!  Thanks for the suggestion Katie!

Recipe by DeniseBirdall 2011. All rights reserved


  1. Spring has arrived in Kansas City too and we love salmon, great recipe for spring!!

  2. It is a nice, light spring recipe. I bought an extra frozen fillet to enjoy next week, it was so good! I do love spring although here at the foot of the Rockies it is a bit confused. We have had sunny blue skies, rain, hail snow and sunny blue skies again all in 12 hours. Spring keeps us on our toes. :-)

  3. Lovely recipe! I'll have to give it a go but with a local fish instead of salmon. As much as I like it, its not the best fish to get down here for obvious reasons. I too took some convincing when it came to fish and I never really ate it until I came here. I think 'fresh' fish made the difference because I'm really not interested in anything that tastes fishy. I make sure I have fish at least once at week...I'm even a full on sushite now! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. I was going to make some salmon on Friday, this looks like a great recipe to try out for our family dinner.

  5. Yes, P.S. I think these spices would work on many kinds of fish. I hope you fine one you like. If you do find any frozen salmon, esp sockeye, don't be afraid to try it. It does not taste bad even when frozen.
    I hope it works well for you, B.Green :-) Let me know. And remember, adjust spice as you prefer for more or less heat.
    Thank you so very much for commenting...made my day!!