Tue Mar 18, 2014
A Cajun bender is a good type of bender to be on, right? A massive amount of Cajun seasoning I put together worked wonders on wings, ribs, and in jambalaya, so why stop there? If it made me love all of those things even more, could it make something I don't have much admiration for—fish—equally irresistible? I figured it could, so married the two to form the classic blackened catfish.
I was loving learning the basics of Cajun and Creole cuisine, so decided to keep that going by cooking up a Creole sauce to serve with the catfish. Through all this cooking I quickly became familiar with the "holy trinity"—onions, celery, and green bell peppers—which is exactly how this sauce started. Those veggies were sweated until they became nice and tender, but not browned.
Then the rest of the sauce was a lot of went into my jambalaya, minus the rice and meats. Garlic, tomatoes, and chicken stock were added, along with seasonings in the form of Louisiana hot sauce, Worcestershire, bay leaves, white and cayenne peppers, and dried thyme, and the whole thing was then left to simmer for twenty minutes. In then end, I felt I had a strong representation of Creole flavors with a sauce that started off with a garden fresh flavor which grew in complexity as waves of heat came in from the distinct white pepper, hot sauce, and cayenne.
The Creole sauce was the hard part—when it came to make the fish, it couldn't have been more quick and simple. I picked up four catfish filets from the fishmonger, and once home, just took my already mixed Cajun seasoning and gave each piece of fish a thick coating in it. A brush of olive and it was time for the grill.
These went over a hot fire, and what does hot fire and oil equal...flare-ups! Those little spurts of flame were manageable and short-lived though, and actually great for cooking this dish. The scorching fire and occasional flare-up turned the outside of the fish black in a mere two to three minutes per side, which was just long enough to cook the fish through without it drying out.
Despite well seasoned grates, oiled fish, and a deeply blackened crust, I still managed to get a little piece of the delicate catfish stuck to the grill here and there, but I guess that's partly just par for the course with fish. Still, these looked mighty tasty coming off the grill and I couldn't wait to see if that spice mixture worked its magic once again.
The Cajun seasoning became an intense combination of spicy, earthy, and herbal notes that defined the dish, but didn't fully cover the flavor of the catfish, creating a balance that even a seafood-avoider like myself can enjoy. The Creole sauce topping may not have made for the prettiest of photos, but it did lend another layer of peppery spice and nice overall freshness to the dish that, while not totally necessary, was certainly welcome. The whole thing left me with yet another good impression of Cajun and Creole cuisine and has me plugging along with even more recipes in the same vain.
Blackened Catfish with Creole Sauce
- Prep Time:
- 40 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 6 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 46 Minutes
- 4 servings
- For the Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup diced onions (about 1 medium)
- 1/2 cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
- 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper (about 1 medium)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
- 1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 2 cups low-sodium store-bought or homemade chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Louisiana-style hot sauce (such as Crystal), plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Catfish
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 boneless catfish fillets
- Olive oil, for brushing
- To make the sauce: Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, celery, and green peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, stock, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, white pepper, cayenne pepper, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer until sauce slightly thickens, about 20 minutes.
- Remove and discard bay leaves. Add butter and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and green onions. Season with salt, pepper, and additional hot sauce to taste. Sauce will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- To make the fish: In a small bowl, mix together paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Season catfish fillets liberally with seasoning all over.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Brush fillets lightly with oil all over. Place catfish in grill and cook until blackened and fish flakes when to a fork, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer fish to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Top with Creole sauce and serve.