Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Blackened Catfish (and what to do with the leftovers)

I grew up on the river.  Literally.  My front yard was a river and my back yard was a swamp (our house was on stilts).  I know, I know, typical Louisiana stereotype, but true.  It was a great childhood.  We played outside constantly and went fishing everyday.  My Daddy would catch it, then clean it and my Mama would cook it for supper that night.  That's fresh seafood!  Once you've had fish that fresh, it's hard to eat anything else.  However, not everyone has access to just-caught seafood.  So, if you're buying it from the store just make sure you follow a few simple rules to be sure you're getting fresh fish.   If you are buying a whole fish, look at his eyes.  They should be bright and clear, not dull and gray.  The skin should be shiny and metallic-looking, not spotty or discolored.  If you are buying fillets and they have the skin still attached, the skin should be shiny just as a whole fish.  If there's no skin on the fillet, the flesh should look vibrant, not dull or discolored.  If there is liquid on the fish, it should be clear, not milky.  Milky means it is starting to rot.  And above all, the fish should not stink!  Fish should not smell fishy.  It should smell like fresh water or the ocean.

Catfish is my favorite fish.  It's a white, flaky fish that can be fried, baked, grilled, put in a court bullion (that's a red gravy made with fish), etc.  Very versatile and delicious.  Plus, it's what I ate the most of growing up so it reminds me of home.  Here's my favorite way to cook it:


4 catfish fillets
1 TBS butter
1 TBS canola oil
2 TBS paprika
1 TBS Cajun seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Mix together paprika, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and kosher salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Here's what it looks like:

Use a paper towel or two to dry the fish well.  This is very important!  If the fish is wet, it will steam in the skillet instead of blackening.  

Sprinkle the seasoning all over the fillets.  Then flip them over and season the back side.  You may not use all of the seasoning.  Just be sure they are seasoned well.

A cast iron skillet is ideal for this recipe.  It retains heat and will blacken the fish perfectly.  If you don't have one, go buy one.  You'll love it.  But if you must, you can use a regular heavy-bottomed skillet.  Make sure you preheat the skillet and get it smoking hot.  Seriously, you want the skillet on medium-high to high heat for at least 5-10 minutes.  Then, add the oil and butter (the butter gives flavor, the oil keeps the butter from burning).  It will melt right away.  Then, add your fillets.  Once they are in the skillet, don't touch them or try to move them around.  And don't crowd the pan!  I do two at a time because I don't want the temperature of the skillet to go down.

Let them sear for 5 minutes or so (depends on the size of the fillets, mine were pretty big).  You will notice the edges starting to turn white.  Then, using a large spatula, carefully flip the fish over so it can sear on the other side.

You can see in the above photo how the pan will smoke a little.  That's what you want.  There's a fine line between blackened and burnt.  Be careful not to cross that line!

Once the second side has seared for about 2-3 minutes, lower the heat to medium or medium-low.  Cook the fish a few more minutes (again, it depends on the size of the fillets) until done on the inside.  It will be white and flaky on the inside when done.

This recipe is so good!  If you have any leftovers, I have a great way to use it up.  If you like crab cakes, try this:


2 cooked catfish fillets
1/2 cup crushed cracker crumbs
1 TBS mayonnaise
1 tsp spicy brown mustard
1 egg, beaten
Cajun seasoning to taste
canola oil

In a big bowl, mix egg, cracker crumbs, mayo, mustard, and Cajun seasoning.  Shred the left over fish with a fork.  Add the fish to the bowl and gently mix everything together.  Form into small cakes or patties.  Set aside.

Heat a skillet (cast iron is best) over medium heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom.  Once it is hot, add the catfish cakes.  Cook until browned on each side, about 5 minutes or so.  Remove and drain on paper towels.


2 TBS mayonnaise
1 TBS ketchup
splash of lemon juice
splash of worcestershire sauce
black pepper, to taste
Cajun seasoning, to taste
hot sauce, to taste

Mix everything together, seasoning to taste.  This makes a small amount, but it's very easy to scale it up if you need more.

So, there you have it.  My favorite way to eat catfish and my favorite way to eat leftovers!  I hope you try this and love it as much as I do.

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