Catfish Courtbouillon can swing both ways. One end of the spectrum leans towards the darker thicker roux based version favored by some famous local chefs, another is a lighter fresher iteration perfect for the warmer months. Guess which this is? Light, bright with colorful veg and just enough wine to lend complexity. Try it and it may turn out to be your favorite version.
In classical French cooking, courtbouillon is just what its name implies. A bouillon (broth) that is cooked for a court (short) time. It’s used as a poaching liquid for seafood and this recipe can be made a day ahead. Day of you have only to fry the fish anoint the rice and dig in. So let’s get started.
First thing is to prep the veg, or mirepoix. Because it will only cook a short time you’ll need to mince the celery, onion, garlic and chili peppers pretty finely. The wine will also aid in drawing out the flavors and if you don’t have it a good wine vinegar will serve. You’ll note that I used a cheap white wine and canned tomatoes. By all means use fresh tomatoes if you have ’em. Just remember to peel and seed.
I like to sauté the mirepoix in bacon fat for the flavor but butter works too. Once you’ve softened up the celery, bell pepper, and onion, add the chili, garlic, parsley, paprika, thyme, tomatoes, and wine. Bring up to a boil, cook for a couple of minutes then add the broth and reduce by half. Now your sauce is done. Just remove from the heat and stir in the green onion tops. The residual heat will cook them sufficiently. If you are making this ahead and using chives wait until just before serving to add them.
Whisk together the lemon juice and egg white marinade. Marinating in lemon juice really infuses the flavor and the egg white lends crunch to the coating. And the fish can be redfish if you like that better than the cat. Any firm fish works.
I prefer a very light crisp crunch so the breading is more flour than fish fry meal and I add baking powder to enhance that crispness. And a word about the cornmeal. After I got all this prepped and ready to fry I discovered that I had no fish fry but did have coarse cornmeal so I executed a culinary MacGyver and put the cornmeal in the blender and blended and blended and blended until it was fine. It worked but I won’t forget to check on supplies next time. After the fish is marinated just reach in, get all the chunks, and put them in the breading. Shake until they are covered then drop in the oil (to which you can add a little bacon grease too if you’re feeling wicked).
Cook until brown, drain and assemble as shown below. Enjoy with the remains of the wine & hope for leftovers!
- For the Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons bacon fat (or butter)
- 1 cup onion, minced
- ½ cup celery, minced
- ½ cup red bell pepper, minced
- 1 tablespoon chili, minced (jalapeno or serrano)*
- 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 tsp. ground thyme
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken or seafood stock
- ¼ cup minced chives or scallions (if scallions, green part only)
- For the Marinade:
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 egg white, whisked
- For the Fish:
- 1 inch of vegetable oil or lard
- 1 to 2 pounds skinless fish fillets
- ⅔ cup flour
- ⅓ cup fine cornmeal, a/k/a "fish fry"
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- Lemon juice to taste
- For the rice:
- 1½ cups rice (white or brown) cooked to package directions
- For the sauce:
- Heat the fat in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and saute the onion, celery, red pepper and chili until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, thyme & paprika and let this cook another minute or two, then add the white wine & canned tomatoes with their liquid and bring to a boil. Let this boil down by half, then add the stock and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and set aside. This can be made the day before and refrigerated.
- For the Fish:
- Whisk together the egg white & lemon juice.
- Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and marinate in the fridge for 30.
- Pour about one inch of oil in a frying pan & heat to 350 degrees.
- Mix the flour and cornmeal. Salt the catfish chunks, then dust them in the flour/meal mixture. Fry the fish over medium-high heat until nicely browned, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.
- To serve, lay some rice on the plate, spoon over the sauce, top with the fish and put a little sauce on top of that.