Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thai-Style Catfish

This recipe raises an interesting question: when is a dish truly representative of a particular cuisine.  The question is raised by website, One Perfect Bite, where I found an interesting "Thai-Style Catfish" recipe.  The website notes that people say that "Plah Toht Kamin" is a native Thai dish, but every time the author had the dish it was made by a French chef who was working in Southeast Asia.  While there is no rule that says dishes made by French chefs cannot be truly Thai dishes (or Laotian dishes, or Vietnamese dishes, etc.), a reasonable question is raised if only French chefs are making the dish.

Nevertheless, the combination of catfish, fish sauce and turmeric can be found in various Thai-inspired recipes.  Just "Google" Thai turmeric catfish and you will find a seemingly endless number of recipes with an apparently infinite different ways of using those ingredients.

Yet, it was the dish from One Perfect Bite that initially caught my attention ... and for good reason.  It is easy to make and very tasty to eat.  The combination of fish sauce and turmeric provides for interesting flavors that are both earthy and fermented, only occasionally interrupted by the garlic and shallots used in the marinade.  The chili-lime sauce adds that fresh citrus and heat zing that helps to freshen the flavors of marinated fish.  That is quite the accomplishment given the use of a quarter-cup of fish sauce in the chili-lime sauce.

I did make one modification to the recipe.  Catfish fillets (like most fish fillets) have their thick parts and thin parts.  Rather than use whole fillets, I cut them into evenly-sized nuggets.  This added step helps the fish cook faster and, if the nuggets are cut right, it helps the catfish cook more evenly.


THAI-STYLE CATFISH
Recipe adapted from One Perfect Bite
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the Catfish):
2 tablespoons of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon of shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 pounds of catfish fillets (optional - cut into equal size pieces)

Ingredients (for the Chili Lime Sauce):
1/4 cup of fish sauce
3 tablespoons of lime juice
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of green chiles, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of cilantro, finely chopped

Directions:
1.  Marinate the fish.  Place the garlic, shallots, turmeric, sugar, pepper, salt, fish sauce and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in the bowl of a small food processor. Process to a fairly smooth paste, using a small amount of water if necessary. Combine fish fillets (or fish pieces) and turmeric paste in medium bowl or baking dish, turning fillets to coat evenly with marinade. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature. The fillets can be marinated for up to 24 hours if covered and refrigerated.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  Combine fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and garlic in a small bowl.  Stir until sugar dissolves. Sprinkle the sauce with chilies and cilantro. Set aside, but leave the sauce out.  It is best served at room temperature.

3.  Cook the fish. Place about 1 cup of flour in a pan. Dredge fillets in flour, shaking off excess. Heat reserved 2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. When a drop of water sizzles in pan, add fillets (or fish pieces) and cook, turning once, for 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness of fillets.  (If you are cut the fish into bite-sized pieces, you should cook them for about 3 to 4 minutes before turning them.)  Be careful when turning to avoid breaking the catfish pieces. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with the dipping sauce.

ENJOY!

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