K-Paul's: The New Orleans Restaurant That Paved The Way For Blackened Chicken

Home of jazz music and the never-ending party, New Orleans is known around the world as a city where indulgences reign. In the heart of the French Quarter, no one would bat an eye if you drank a bit too much, ate a bit more than usual, or wore a bit less than you typically would. Say you've never heard of blackened redfish, though, and some locals may balk. While blackened chicken has gained national notoriety as a coveted salad topper and the star of Popeyes Blackened Chicken Sandwich, the technique that creates its signature spicy char was originally developed as a way to showcase southern Louisiana's local flavors.

Now a classic New Orleans food, blackened redfish debuted in 1980 at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, a former French Quarter institution famous for giving the world its first big taste of cajun cooking. Dredged in butter, crusted with Cajun spices, and charred in a cast iron skillet, the dish was the crowning creation of chef Paul Prudhomme, a rising culinary star from Opelousas, Louisiana who previously helmed the kitchen at Commander's Palace. It was there, in one of the most iconic restaurants in the Big Easy food scene, that Prudhomme began grilling up the well-seasoned gulf fish. Not until he opened K-Paul's and found himself without a grill, however, did he develop the blackening technique that would transform the culinary zeitgeist.

After the dish became popular, redfish almost went extinct

One March evening in 1980, Paul Prudhomme served his pan-seared blackened redfish to a small group at K-Paul's, and to say it was well-received would be an understatement. Once word got out, everyone wanted a taste of Prudhomme's new creation. "It seemed like within days the restaurant was full," he told The Times-Picayune in 2005, adding, "And within weeks there were huge lines" (per NOLA.com). In 1983, Prudhomme began hosting pop-ups in major cities like New York and San Francisco, where customers waited for hours on end to try the dish.

Prudhomme's blackened redfish was selling at such an impressive rate that in 1988, Louisiana's Wildlife and Fisheries Commission enacted a temporary ban, forbidding commercial fishermen from catching redfish in hopes of preventing their extinction. As such, chefs began using the technique on other proteins, creating dishes like blackened chicken, steak, shrimp, and snapper. K-Paul's even offered a blackened pork chop on its menu, though Prudhomme told the LA Times in 1986 that his favorite blackened dish was a medium-rare tuna filet.

While blackened meats are often touted as supremely spicy, the late Prudhomme wanted people to know that "blackened" shouldn't be synonymous with heat. "I see people dumping red pepper on food and I feel like crying," Prudhomme told Detroit Free Press in 2015, adding, "They can't taste anything but the pepper. Cajun foods have tons of different flavors. Don't cover them up."