“Fire Puja:  by Wonderlane

As twenty-somethings, my roommate, Jay, and I were blackening food long before blackened food became popular. I guess you could call us pioneers.

To this day, I read through cook books to see if any of the so called “experts” are using the techniques we developed. So far, nothing. I can only assume our methods are still far too ahead of their time.

Jay was a maestro at the put-meat-on-the-grill-and-forget-about it technique of blackening. He never intended to forget about it. He just did. Often beer and possibly a girl or two was involved.

“Let’s grill out,” he would say.

“What for?” I would say. “We’ll just wind up burning it all up and going to McDonalds.”

“Not this time we won’t.”

As usual, we bought chicken, charcoal, matches and enough lighter fluid to fuel a lunar mission. We also bought beer. Lots of beer.

“This is going to be great,” Jay would say.

At some point in the evening, someone, usually a girl, would ask: “Should the grill be smoking like that?” or some such statement.

Later that evening Jay and I would be standing in line at McDonalds smelling like a distillery and charred meat. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but the meat the smell was coming from was connected to us. Not only did we manage to blacken the chicken, but we blackened large swaths of our hides as well. It takes a lot of sacrifice to put out a grill fire awash in food grease and lighter fluid.

My blackening technique was more straight forward than Jay’s. I only tried it once, but, if you are marking success by how black you turned the meat, my method would have won awards.

“And now, in the Cinder Division, an entry from an unknown chef from South Carolina…”

Here was my technique:

I turned the burner on the stove up as high as it would go. I sat a frying pan on it. Once the pan got hot enough to melt rocks, I threw a piece of chicken on it.

One of the bigger challenges of blackening chicken using my technique is actually seeing the chicken. The cloud of smoke billowing up from the pan tends to obscure things. In seconds, your kitchen looks like the fog effects used in a Sherlock Holmes movie. Not only that, but the smoke tends to burn your eyes and close just about every means you have to drawing a breathe – not that you really want to draw a breathe at the time, believe me.

In retrospect, I recommend using an extra long fork to jab through the searing cloud. It may take a bit of stabbing around, but eventually you will hit chicken.

You may also want to remove the batteries from all the smoke detectors in your home before turning on the stove. It is nearly impossible to cook with all that racket. If you live in an apartment, like we did, you might want to remove the batteries from your neighbor’s apartments too. No kidding, I set a few of them off.

Unlike Jay’s more primitive technique, my blacking process benefitted us massively.

I was only a few minutes into the cooking process when there was a frantic knock on the door. Before I could get to it, our door flew open. Our seventy-something-year-old neighbor, Gerta, came dashing in. Without a word, she hustled into the kitchen, pushed me aside, turned off the burner, grabbed my frying pan and stuck it under the faucet.

“Vot are are you trying to do?” she said in a German accent forty years of living in America had not washed away. “Are you trying to burn the place down?”

Eventually, she made a deal with Jay and me. She would cook our chicken for us as long as we lived there if we promised her we would never attempt anything that involved heat and food.

She even brought us cookies from time to time.

Jay violated our no cooking agreement one night when he attempted to bake some cookies from a recipe his sister gave him. We both got to watching a Tarzan movie and forgot about them.

Just call him the blackened cookie pioneer.