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Blackened Tilapia with Creole Sauce

Posted on December 19, 2011.


I was born in southern Louisiana in the heart of Cajun Country. Although my parents moved us to Cleveland, Ohio at an early age, we visited the area regularly and my mother raised us on Creole-style food. This particular dish is a fusion of Cajun-style and Creole foods. While the ingredients in Cajun and Creole dishes are similar, there are distinct differences between the two. The word Creole has many meanings, but its cuisine is a cultural mix of West-European, African, Caribbean and native Indian flavors. For the most part, the Creoles represent a blend of Spanish, American, African, German, and Italian people who settled in Southern Louisiana. The Cajuns, on the other hand, are descendants of the French-speaking Acadians who were banished from Nova Scotia in the early 1700s. They settled in southwest Louisiana and lived in the difficult terrain of swamps and bayous. They had to fight to survive and the Cajun farmers, fishermen, and hunters learned how to live off this exotic land. That necessity inspired Cajun cooking, which can make a great meal out of whatever they forged from the swamps.

If I had to make a distinction between Creole and Cajun food, I would simply say this - Creole is a cuisine inspired by a variety of cultural influences, and Cajun is a style of cooking forged by a certain way of life. We ate a lot of Creole-style food growing up, but we lived a Cajun-style of life.

Chef Paul Prudhomme, of K-Paul´s Restaurant in New Orleans is widely credited for making Cajun-style cooking popular in America. The first time we ate there was in 1980 when I took my entire extended family there to announce my engagement to Karen. His signature dish was Blackened Redfish, for which he created a technique for cooking fish by coating it with clarified butter and sprinkling it with Creole seasoning before searing it in an iron skillet over extremely high heat. This process creates a blackened crust and preserves the natural juiciness of the fish. Since then, Chef Prudhomme´s Blackened Redfish has become synonymous with Cajun-style cooking; however, most Cajuns will tell you that they would never purposely burn a perfectly good piece of fish.

This particular dish integrates Chef Prudhomme´s Blackened Cajun cooking method with a traditional Creole sauce, just like my mother used to make. Tilapia is the perfect fish for blackening because it is very flavorful and holds together over high heat. You can also substitute red snapper, grouper, or any other ´white´ fish.


Ingredients for the blackened tilapia:
6 tilapia filets
3 tablespoons blackened rub (see my recipe at the end of the book)
3 cups Creole sauce (see recipe below)
2 cups cooked white rice
2 tablespoons minced green onions
Olive oil
1 lb butter (1 stick)

Ingredients for the Creole Sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
5 garlic cloves, diced
3 shallots, chopped
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning mix (see recipe)
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 imported bay leaves
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned broth
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt


Directions for the blackened tilapia:
Using a brush, lightly coat fish filets on each side with the olive oil; dust thoroughly with the blackening rub mix. Set out at room temperature for 15 minutes, turning once.

Note: It is recommended to cook blackened fish outside because of the amount of smoke that is generated.

Heat a cast iron skillet until it´s nearly red hot. Drop one-half of the stick of butter into the pan. As soon as the butter starts to turn brown, immediately place the filets in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes per side. Add additional butter after turning, if needed.

You can usually cook 2 or 3 filets at a time. Add more butter and allow the butter to turn brown once more before placing the additional filets in the skillet.

Serve with rice and ladle a generous amount of Creole sauce on the rice and fish. Garnish with green onions.

Directions for the Creole Sauce:
In a large pan or cast iron skillet on medium to high heat, melt butter and then add the onions, bell pepper, and celery. Saute until vegetables are softened (about 3-5 minutes). Add garlic and shallots and cook for an additional 3 minutes.

Add the Creole seafood seasoning, paprika, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes longer until thick. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve over rice with seafood.


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Posted By: Chief Foodie Officer