February 2018
Homeplace & Community

Chef's Corner: Memories and Comfort Food

During the winter, when the wind is cold, the nights are long and spring seems so far away, I tend to feel the need to cook. Now, I always cook, but this time of year gives me a need for comfort foods. Comfort can mean different things to different people, but to me it means food memories of the past, not simply the stick-to-your-ribs food it’s often equated with. So this month I chose to share a take on some of my memories using Alabama farm-raised catfish.

I lived and worked in Nashville around the turn of the century (that makes me sound old, doesn’t it) and one of my favorite things about living there, and there were many, was Nashville-style hot chicken. Whether for lunch or a late-night snack, it always hit the spot.

This recipe is spicy and will get your forehead sweating a little, but if you’re worried about it, just cut the cayenne amount by half. You’ll still get all the flavor with just a touch of heat.

Using hot oil is imperative, as it toasts the spices. You can’t get that signature flavor any other way.

The tortilla-crusted catfish is homage to one of the first real chefs I ever worked for, Chef Lee. He loved Southwestern flavor and used this type of crust on all types of fish and chicken. If you want to take a little shortcut, substitute tortilla chips for fresh tortillas … heck, even Doritos would work.

Lemon and butter are two flavors that will always go well with any fish, and catfish is no exception. This is a classic and, hopefully, one you will enjoy.

 

Lemon Butter Catfish

LEMON BUTTER CATFISH

Servings: 4
4 catfish fillets
3 Tablespoons melted butter
1 medium lemon, juice and zest
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Fresh chopped basil or parsley leaves, for garnish and flavor
Extra lemon slices, for serving

Use paper towels to thoroughly dry excess moisture from fish fillets – this step is crucial for fish to brown nicely in pan. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine butter, lemon juice and zest, and 1½ teaspoons kosher salt. Stir to combine well.

In a separate bowl, combine remaining kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper. Evenly press spice mixture onto both sides of fish fillets.

In a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until hot. Cook 2 fish fillets at a time to avoid overcrowding (allows for browning). Cook each side just until fish becomes opaque, feels somewhat firm in the center and is browned - lightly drizzle some of the lemon butter sauce as you cook, reserving the rest for serving. Take care not to overcook, as that will result in a tougher texture.

Serve fish with remaining lemon butter sauce, basil or parsley, and lemon wedges.

Nashville Hot Catfish

 

 

 

NASHVILLE HOT CATFISH

Serves: 4-6
Peanut oil
1 cup cornmeal
Salt, to taste, divided
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 pounds catfish fillets, strips or nuggets
¼ cup Creole rub (recipe included)
Sliced white bread, of choice (I use 2 pieces per serving)
1 cup ranch dressing
1 cup dill pickle slices

Heat pot of peanut oil to 350° degrees.

In a bowl, pour cornmeal. Mix in salt.

In two separate bowls, pour buttermilk and flour.

Dredge each piece of catfish in flour, buttermilk and seasoned cornmeal. Put on plate and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

In large METAL bowl or pot, add Creole rub with a healthy pinch of salt. Add ¼ cup HOT fryer oil. Stir until a loose paste forms. (You may need to add more oil to achieve the correct consistency.) Set paste to the side.

Fry catfish in batches until golden brown and crispy, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towel.

Toss catfish gently in chili paste mixture until evenly coated. If you want it really spicy, just add more cayenne to mix.

Serve Hot Catfish on top of white bread.

Garnish with ranch dressing and dill pickle slices.

CREOLE RUB

Makes: 7/8 cup
4 Tablespoons cayenne
2 Tablespoons smoked paprika
4 Tablespoons chili powder
2 Tablespoons garlic powder
1 Tablespoon ground white pepper
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper

In a small, resealable container, combine all ingredients. Mix well.

 

Tortilla-crusted Catfish

TORTILLA-CRUSTED CATFISH

Serves: 4
Cooking spray
6 corn tortillas, torn in pieces
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lime juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1 egg
4 catfish fillets

Heat oven to 375°. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In blender, place tortilla pieces, pepper, lime juice, cilantro and spices. Pulse until mixture is uniform small crumbs. Spread on plate.

In shallow dish, beat egg.

Dip each fillet in egg and then in crumbs, patting crumbs to adhere. Place on baking sheet.

Bake until fish flakes, about 15 minutes depending on thickness of fillets.

 

Brian Taylor CEC, CCE is the corporate executive chef for SouthFresh Farms.