If you want to trace the impact of a cuisine upon the world, then all you have to do is pick a recipe. For example, take the dish known as Milanesa (or Milanese in English). Originating in Milan, Italy, a Milanesa is a breaded veal cutlet. The original recipe required a cutlet from a milk-fed veal, bone-in, and fried in clarified butter in the manner that one would fry Weiner Schnitzel, It is known as Cotoletta alla Milanesa.
During the Italian diaspora in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, many emigrants took this dish to their new homes, many of which were in the Western Hemisphere. The breaded cutlet dish found a new home in restaurants, especially in South America. The dish evolved over the years and decades, with cooks breading much more than veal. They breaded chicken cutlets and beef cutlets. Cooks in different countries also made their own mark on the dish. For example, in Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay, cooks prepared the cutlets with potatoes, calling it Milanesa con papas frites. Milanesa has become so common, particularly in Latin American countries, that one could think that the dish originated in the New World, as opposed to restaurants and homes half a world away.
Drawing from the New-World inspiration, I decided to make a variation of a Milanesa. This variation did away with the meat, and relied upon fish. In particular, I used blue catfish for this dish. The blue catfish originated in the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio river basins; however, the fish were introduced into rivers in nearby Virginia. The blue catfish are a very sturdy species and have made their way into the Chesapeake Bay. The blue catfish has done so well, that it is considered an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay, threatening the Bay's iconic residents, most notably, the blue crab.
While the blue catfish may not have many natural predators in the water, it has a very big predator outside of the water. Given its designation as an invasive species, and its threat to native species, it is always open season to catch blue catfish and cook them around here. Indeed, unlike the iconic rockfish (which has a 1 to 2 fish catch limit), the State of Maryland does not place any limit on catfish.
When I came across blue catfish fillets in my local grocery store, I thought that these fillets were perfect for a Milanese recipe. The fillets were just thick enough that they could be breaded and fried like a chicken or veal cutlet. The fillets also appeared hardy enough to serve as an adequate substitute for meat. My initial thoughts proved accurate, as the blue catfish worked extremely well in a Milanese recipe. The only hitch is that, unlike veal or chicken, one cannot pound catfish to get the desired thickness. Therefore, it is very important to purchase fillets that are even in thickness and just thick enough to stand up to about six or eight minutes of cooking.
A Chef Bolek Original
4 catfish fillets, about 6-8 ounces each
4 catfish fillets, about 6-8 ounces each
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups of panko breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons of butter
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cups of arugula, lightly packed
1. Bread the catfish. Place the panko bread crumbs on one dish. Beat the eggs in a separate dish. Dip each filet in the beaten eggs and then into the bread crumbs. Make sure the fillets are completely coated and press gently to adhere the coating the fillets.
2. Fry the catfish. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add 2 fillets and fry until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Flip the fillets and continue to cook for about 2 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining fillets.
3. Prepare the arugula. Whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the lemon juice. Toss the oil and juice with the arugula, shallots, and tomatoes.
4. Plate the dish. Place the catfish in the center of the dish. Add the arugula mixture over the catfish. Serve immediately.