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Catfish Wednesday

05/27/2010

If you like catfish, cooking, and Vietnamese food, run to your nearest book vendor and buy this cookbook. The Catfish Simmered in Caramel Sauce is fantastic, a new house favorite.

The recipe itself is simple. The only time-consuming part is making the caramel sauce, which can (and should) be made in advance. If you make a batch ahead of time, it will last for several weeks. And once you have caramel sauce on hand, this catfish dish and other recipes are very easy weeknight cooking.

Catfish unwrapped.

Catfish unwrapped.

You’ll need one extra ingredient to make the caramel sauce: patience. When reducing the syrup, use its color and consistency as guides for doneness, not time. “Done” caramel sauce is thick and dark. If you undercook the sauce, it will still taste good—it is pure sugar, after all—but it’ll be too thin and sweet. It’s supposed to be bitter, reminiscent of black tea. And since the caramel is dangerously hot on the stove, you can’t really sample it until it cools. You have to judge the sauce based on looks alone. (I know your mother told you not to do that, but it’s OK in this case.) The last time I made caramel sauce it took twice as long as the recipe suggested, but it came out perfectly. So don’t rush it.

As for the catfish recipe, I like to use the entire scallion rather than just the white parts. And I use chopped-up bacon instead of pork fatback because I always have bacon in the freezer.

Catfish simmering in caramel sauce.

Catfish simmering in caramel sauce.

I also don’t use any water. That’s because I add a few cups of green beans during the last 15 minutes, and they need to steam with the lid on. They also sweat a bit of liquid into the pan. The recipe calls for removing the lid to reduce the sauce—which you should do the first time you make it. But after that, try beans or another crisp vegetable on top and experiment with using less (or no) water.

You can use tilapia instead of catfish if you want fewer calories in your meal, but it’s just not the same. Tilapia is still yummy, and it takes less time to cook, but the fattier catfish absorbs more flavor. Frozen fish doesn’t come out very well, either. I tried it with cod and decided to stick with fresh fish in the future.

Here’s a shot of the complete meal:

Catfish in caramel sauce with green beans.

Catfish in caramel sauce with green beans.

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