Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blackened Catfish with Maque Choux

An important aspect of my cooking hobby is education, an effort on my part to learn from others.  I strive to achieve that goal in many different ways.  I  have taken cooking classes, I read cookbooks, and I follow websites of people who share a love of cooking.  One of the websites that I follow is Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.  It is the website of Hank Straw; and, in some ways, his story is one that I quite admire.  

As you can tell from his website address, Hank Straw and HAGC is all about "honest food."  But, it is his efforts to walk the "less-traveled path" that have me checking the website on a regular basis. Hank does not purchase packaged and processed foods; he hunts for his meat or buys it from people who raise animals in a humane way; and he focuses his attention on, in his words, "those meats and veggies that people don't eat much any more."  It's that less traveled path.

Recently, I made one of Hank's recipes ... Blackened Catfish with Maque Choux.  You can read his post about the history of blackened fish, which is a very interesting one, especially considering the sustainability issues.  What got my attention was the Maque Choux, a dish that incorporates the cooking of the Acadians (i.e., the Cajuns) and Native Americans in southern Louisiana.   The recipe incorporates corn, green peppers, onions and tomatoes.  Due to the time of the year, I had to use frozen corn, but I think that the dish would be infinitely better with fresh corn.  I will definitely be making Maque Choux in the summer.

Finally, one note about the blackened catfish.  Hank suggests that you use a cast-iron skillet to cook the fish.  When I worked in a seafood restaurant, we used a large cast iron skillet to cook blackened catfish and blackened tuna.  While I do have a cast iron skillet, I decided to try using a regular, non-stick pan.  While a certain aspect of the "blackened" character of the fish is lost with a non-stick pan, it is easier to clean up and I don't have to worry about cracking any pans. 

Serves 4

Ingredients (for the catfish):
4 catfish fillets
1/2 cup melted butter

Ingredients (for the blackening rub):
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon of dried oregano

Ingredients (for the Maque Choux):
2 tablespoons of butter
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cups corn kernels
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Salt, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste

1.  Make the maque choux.  Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat, then add the onion. Saute the onion for 1 minute, then add the green pepper. Sprinkle salt over everything and saute for about 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the corn kernels and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover while you make the fish.

2.  Prepare the pan.  Get a cast-iron frying pan hot over your hottest burner.  Turn the stove fan on high, and open the windows nearby, as this creates smoke. Let the frying pan get hot for a good 3-4 minutes. (Alternatively, you can heat a non-stick pan on high for a couple of minutes).  

3.  Prepare the catfish fillets. While the pan is heating up, melt the butter and pour the Cajun spices into a shallow dish.  Dip the fish fillets in the melted butter, then dredge in the Cajun spices. Shake off any excess spices. Do this for as many fillets as will fit in the frying pan, which is usually about four fillets. 

4.  Cook the fillets.  Lay the fish down on the hot pan. It will sizzle up fiercely and smoke. This is normal. Let the fish cook this way for 2-3 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, carefully flip the catfish fillets and cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.  

5. Finish the maque choux.  When you flip the catfish, add the tomatoes and the Tabasco to the maque choux.

6.  Plate the dish.   Plate one fillet on a dish, add the maque choux, and serve with rice and a good beer.  (I suggest anything from Abita Brewing.)


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