If you like fish, chances are you like catfish. The following recipe is a great way to prepare your catfish fillets for a great change from the routine of fried catfish. The blackening technique, used in this recipe, is credited to chef Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans and has since been adapted for use with several kinds of meats and poultry but fish seems to be the most popular for this process.
4 catfish fillets
1/3 lb. bacon
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp white pepper
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp lemon pepper
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp rosemary, crushed
2 tsp fennel seed, crushed
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp teaspoon oregano
1 tsp teaspoon salt
The following instructions can be modified to your personal taste. The spice rub is even sold commercially to simplify the process further. I like to create my own blackening rub but have used commercially available rubs with great results.
One thing about filleting catfish before we get started.People tell me often, when I'm filleting a catfish at the cleaning station, that they never thought about filleting catfish. It's so easy and leaves such a nice fillet it is the only way I clean catfish and it really provides a great fillet which can be substituted for almost any fish recipe you might want to try. Now lets get started.
Preparing the fillets: The first thing you want to do is cut your fillets into sections that will fit inside your skillet and will be easy to turn. Rinse your fillets and pat dry with a paper towel. Next, using another paper towel or a brush completely cover the fillets with a light coat of olive oil. Apply the spice rub liberally coating the entire fillet. The spices adheres nicely to the oil and will stay put while your catfish is cooking.
Mixing the rub: This is the fun part of any blackening recipe. You can mix the ingredients listed above or make your own. The blackening process is obviously a spicy dish and many people mistakingly think it has to be spicy hot. This spice rub is a little hot but you can leave out ingredients such as cayenne pepper or chili powder. I know when my wife is dining with me the cayenne pepper is either left out all together or I mix it in after I coat her fillets because it seems she can detect a single speck of cayenne pepper if it's on her fish. Keep that in mind and everyone can enjoy this recipe.
Preparing the skillet: The first time I saw the blackening process was in Alaska and it was used on some fresh coho fillets. I watched a black cast iron skillet sit on a flame outside for a good five minutes before my friend plopped the fillet into the near red hot skillet. The spicy smoke rose into the cool night air smacking me in the face leaving me gasping for air. I think I loudly voiced my concern of the edibility of the salmon as I staggered back away from the inferno. Then when the fillet was turned the smoke came again and when it finally cleared there was a perfectly burnt hunk of coho salmon I had just caught that morning. So much for dinner I exclaimed with a laugh. That was the best salmon I ever ate and I was sold on the blackening process forever.
My friend prepared the salmon to perfection and the trick to a moist fillet is hot and fast, no more than two or three minutes per side. The hot skillet burns the spices while protecting the fillet inside leaving a crispy spice crust on the outside and leaves a moist flaky fillet on the inside. UM UM! If you do have a thick fillet, which I have found are plentiful here in Indiana, a minute or two more will be needed per side.
A cast iron skillet works best as it more evenly distributes the heat and it stays hot longer which is important to really blacken the rub quickly. I like to use fresh bacon grease in my skillet. I just coat the bottom right before I add the fillet and then clean the skillet between fillets to rid it of any burnt bacon grease. I think I just like the bacon appetizer I get with this recipe so I think I will stick with it. My kids love to sneak up and snatch a piece when I'm not looking too.
If you don't have a cast iron skillet you can use a regular skillet and if you don't have a burner to use outside you can do this on the stove but be sure to have the fan on high and maybe open a window or two. The smoke will burn your eyes and throat so be careful with that. Catfish don't seem to smoke near as much as salmon either because of the oils in the salmon or my reluctance to get the skillet as hot as my friend does but either way it is all worth the efforts.
Blackened catfish can be served with just tarter sauce and a cold drink and chips or you can get a little fancy and serve it on a bed of rice with mixed vegetables and a glass of wine with lemon juice over the fillet, it really works well either way.
Catfish are plentiful in the tri-state area so get out there and enjoy the great catfishing available and try this recipe on your next catch.