April 9, 2007
Wandering Down the
Country Catfish Lane
is the reputation of a bottom feeder that makes catfish one of the
easiest fish to work with. It is a fish with a thick emotional skin,
capable of taking life with a kind of philosophic outlook. This
translates well into the kitchen, where catfish meat’s mild flavor
provides a powerful amount of flexibility.
Unless your name is Gollum and a tricksy Hobbit stole your ring, eating
it raw is highly unadvised. However, your options are wide open. You
might even find yourself standing over a fillet, with the spirit moving
you towards turning it into a stew.
this is the case, you start with – as do so many of life’s endeavors – a
Cut the fillet into one-inch cubes, and set aside for the time being.
There is other work afoot, creating the base for your stew.
Sautee an onion and a green pepper with olive oil and minced garlic over
medium heat. This will provide you one of life’s little joys – an
opportunity to smell the aroma that is accompanying the low sizzle from
Once softened, add stewed tomatoes and address the question of other
some, the notion that there is no predetermined list of vegetables is a
source of discomfort. They prefer to be told exactly what to add and
exactly how much must be added.
Here, we issue this rebuttal – to issue such a list is an act of
personal hubris. It is to say, “If you do not do as I do, you are doing
Fie on this! Do not fall prey to arrogance or indecisiveness. Spread
your wings and take flight. Add this . . . add that! Be your own master!
Let us not confuse a lack of strict rules with a lack of any form,
however. There are some vegetables that are natural fits and some that
should be approached with great caution.
Corn, celery and okra, for example, lend themselves well with where this
is headed. If you are a daring person, the sort who wanders down country
lanes without knowing where they come out, you might consider cabbage.
Some would look at what has so far been assembled, and what we know will
eventually be added (by way of sitting on your kitchen counter in
one-inch cubes), and consider the potato.
Look at your stovetop. Is there a pot of boiling water and rice there?
If so, you have seen the future and have embraced it. If not, cook two
parts of water and one part rice, covered (and after bringing to boil)
for about 45 minutes.
You perhaps now see the conflict – potatoes and rice. We would not be so
brash, a mere four paragraphs after denouncing strict recipe
requirements, to rule something out. However, if one were inclined to
set strict limits, one would probably exclude the possibility of
combining potatoes and rice.
Once you have sorted this out, add thyme and ground cayenne pepper. The
presence of cayenne pepper will raise questions of how much. The brow
might furrow in search of an answer. It is a tight path over which to
navigate. Too little and the dish isn’t nearly as zesty as need be; too
much and your mouth could quite literally explode in flames.
Cook all of these until the tomato juice cooks down. If you are doing
things efficiently, this will take you to about 5 minutes shy of the
time when the rice is done.
is now that you add the cubed catfish (at this point, with all this talk
of self-mastery and mixed starches and whatnot, perhaps you forgot that
there was fish involved) and any shrimp that you might have on hand not
otherwise allocated to other tasks.
The fish and shrimp will take about 10 minutes to cook, and in the
middle of that your rice should be done. However, rice is best if, upon
completion of the cooking stage, fluffed with a fork and allowed to
breathe the humid air of a covered pot for five minutes. Thus, if the
stars are aligned properly – and if you are truly master of your own
domain, this is largely up to you – both will be finished at the same
What you do from here is, again, your own choice. We preach free will
and we will be faithful to that. If I were you, and this is merely a
suggestion, I’d bring them together in a bowl and eat it.
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