Friday, October 23, 2009

Cast Iron Blackened Catfish Filets

Ingredients

2 (7 - 12 oz) catfish fillets (8" - 10" in length)
1 measure of DIY Cajun Seasoning  
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp thyme
2 Tbs peanut oil
1/4 lb. butter
2 Tbsp lemon juice

Melt the butter, mix it with half of the dry ingredients and the lemon juice and pour it into a casserole dish. Coat the fillets on both sides well and set aside until you are ready to blacken them.

This recipe calls for a seasoned #10 cast-iron skillet. You can buy 'em for $15 - $20 at your nearest discount department store and they should last several life times if maintained correctly.

In fact, you can find out how to 'season' your own cast iron skillets and pots, similar to the way the Cajuns did it in the old days, by visiting a site I discovered recently called What's Cooking America. Here is an excerpt from one of their informative articles about cast iron cookware:
  
"The first most common mistake of why people do not like cast iron is that they say everything sticks. If food sticks to your cast iron pan, your pan is NOT seasoned right and you need to re-season it. Cast iron is a natural non-stick surface and if your pan is seasoned correctly it WILL NOT stick!" 

Now, I know that some folks will find that hard to believe, but they are telling you the truth. There are a few rules you may have to learn along the way when caring for your cast iron cookware, like not using harsh detergents or chemicals to clean them. Doing that can take the seasoning right off and start the iron to oxidizing and then you find yourself with a rusty pot.

Cast iron cookware users find different methods to keeping their irons in tip-top shape. I've used heat, ice and even salt on occasions to clean my cast iron pots and pans.

Enough of that. What you want to do is to spoon in the 2 Tbsp of peanut oil and let the metal pot get very hot. Peanut oil has a higher flash point than the other oils, like canola and seed oils, so it can take higher temperatures,  plus it coats the bottom of the hot skillet better than traditional oils to form a barrier between the iron and the fish.

You will notice when your cast iron skillet gets hot enough to add the fillets by watching for when the peanut oil begins to smoke. When that happens the buttered and seasoned fillets are ready for the pan.

With one hand remove a fillet from the buttered dish and, on both sides,  lightly sprinkle half of the remaining dry seasoning with the other hand. Gently lay the catfish fillets onto the hot skillet, leaving room enough for the second fillet and then repeat the process. It's a snap to do when you get the hang of it (kinda like poetry in motion).

Cook on both sides for about 3 to 4 minutes (you only get to flip them once). After that take the cast- iron skillet away from the heat source and allow it to cool for a couple minutes before moving the blackened fillets to the serving dishes.

This meal goes well with a chilled Gulf of Mexico (wild) shrimp salad with Italian croûtons and a light and creamy buttermilk dressing ... and, perhaps to top it off,  ... a bottle of fine Beaujolais just for contrast.

"Red wine with fish",  you ask?

Well, yes. I've always maintained that if we can blacken a perfectly normal fish,  then we can certainly drink red wine to toast the occasion.


Bon Appetit!  Ahheee!!

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Homemade Habanero Flavored Potato Chips



Are you tired of paying high-prices for specialty potato chips? Here is a simple way to make you own, on the cheap, by transforming an ordinary russet potato (Fig. 1) into a batch of tasty homemade custom chips (Fig. 2)

This is what you will need:

  • 1 large russet potato, sliced into 1/8" slices
  • 8 ripe habanero peppers, finely chopped
  • 1/2 quart of water
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice, from concentrate
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • deep-fat fryer
  • peanut oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by dissolving the salt and lemon juice in the half-quart of water, add the chopped habanero peppers,  stir and mix thoroughly. Next, slice the potato and add the slices to the solution and soak for 30 minutes.

Set your deep fryer at 375 degrees F., allow to heat-up, then add your potato slices. Keep an eye on your chips closely. When they have floated to the top and turned into a golden-brown color they are done.

Remove them to a paper towel to soak-up any excess oil. Lightly sprinkle your chips with your choice of seasonings. I like to add finely ground onion powder and cayenne pepper to mine.

Peanut oil makes a much tastier chip, but you can fry them in other oils as well.

Note: You can substitute a less volatile kind of pepper, like jalapeños, if habaneros are too intimidating to the taste buds and palate.

À votre santé! ... (to your health!)  Ahheee!!


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Monday, October 19, 2009

Lemony Fried Catfish Nuggets

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs. fresh catfish fillets
  • 1/2 gallon of distilled water
  • 1 pint of lemon juice, from concentrate
  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • seasoning
  • peanut or canola oil


Instructions:

Dissolve the lemon juice and sea salt in the distilled water using a non-reactive container and soak the catfish fillets for no more than 1 hour.

Test the lemon flavor by using part of one fillet. Cut a few nuggets and dredge the wet morsels in your seasoned flour/cornbread mixture then deep fry at 350 degrees F. until golden brown. By testing the first few nuggets for tartness, you will be able to gauge the strength of the lemon flavor in your fish and make the necessary adjustments.

If the first 'test' batch is a little too tart for your particular taste, you can lightly rinse the rest of the fillets off in clear running tap water for a few seconds to further dilute the lemony flavor. (Don't over rinse.)

The amount of oil you use to cook your nuggets will depend on you. You will need at least enough oil to fry one side of the nuggets at the time -- which also means you will have to turn them over at the proper time to equally fry them on the other side (around 3 to 4 minutes per side).

I personally like the taste of peanut oil so I use it when I can. During a recent event I used an electric 2 gallon deep-fryer and cooked the catfish nuggets at the stated temperature until they floated to the top. That is when I know they are thoroughly cooked.

Last weekend my friends and I cooked up about 40 lbs. of fresh catfish fillets using a couple of different methods and techniques, including this one.

The lemon-flavored nuggets were the most popular. By preparing the nuggets this way I didn't have to use 'lemon-pepper' to season the fish -- just lemon flavor without the pepper. It is especially convenient for those folks who are spice intolerant. And those who do love spices can add their own after the nuggets are fried. Everyone at the dinner table becomes a winner.

You should try this simple way of preparing your next batch of fish. These Lemony Fried Catfish Nuggets will certainly become a big hit at your next party.

Bon Appetit! Ahheee!!


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Cajun Song from the Movie 'Southern Comfort'



Please Read this First

Southern Comfort, the movie, was released in 1981. It became a very popular movie among the Cajuns because it manage to capture and harness that mystical sense of cultural pride and the common bonds shared by the Acadians who live along the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana. That centuries-old neighborliness does still flourish there today. The bad guys in the movie were eventually defeated in the end and that is something which plays well in my book.

This film clip shows a typical Cajun fais do-do, (pronounced FAY-DOE-DOE), which usually includes the serving of foods like gumbo, bar-b-que, pig roasts, beans, potato salad, ... cold beer ... the list gets larger ... and of course,  a boucherie where fresh pork sausage and boudin is made right there on the spot.

In the old days fais do-do celebrations marked special occasions, like anniversaries, milestone birthdays, and extended family reunions. It is not unusual for hundreds of people to attend such events -- all from one common family tree.

The places which were selected for the events usually included a dance hall of some sort ... possibly an old barn or vacant cabin, ... or under large tents ... and often times near water channels like bayous and edges of the swamp, many of 'em could be similar to the backdrop seen through the eyes of Corporal Harding as he gazes out from inside the dance barn.

In my search for decent Cajun themes in modern movies, I found that this one may have presented a slight overkill about the way Cajuns take care of things, but it didn't lack for good scenery. It was as close to the real thing that I could find, except maybe for this one low-budget film called "Little Chenier" written, produced and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf and released in 2006.

In my mind it's kind of a toss-up between the two, as far as natural landscape scenery goes, and probably deserves more side-by-side comparisons before a final determination is made.

"Little Chenier" was slightly predictable. The creators of that film used a mildly retarded character, skillfully portrayed by actor Frederick Koehler, as a focal point for their good vs. evil story plot. It was done simply and on the cheap, yet it simply managed to invoke a bit of nostalgia in me which I enjoyed.

The photographers in that piece did an exceptional job with what they had on hand  --  a cornucopia of natural swamp scenes which painted the landscape in the area of their filming and to which no artist, if it were a canvas, other than God Himself, could re-create.

It's such a pity there aren't more movies made in Cajun country. Good ones!

All of the graphics and scenes grow freely and naturally in full glory. Everything a movie producer would need is already there like an open book -- just fill in the blanks with good script, actors and cameras and voila! ...  you've got another movie. Don't forget the mosquito repellent, tho.

The clip shown here marks a turning point in the movie for the characters of its top billing actors, Keith Caradine and Powers Booth.

After certain members of their squad played a childish prank on the locals it caused all hell to break loose in the Louisiana swamps.

Commanded by a paranoid Corporal Hardin, played by Booth, (and in this scene with a devil-may-care Pfc. Simms), portrayed by Caradine, the military guys suddenly find themselves in the middle of a Cajun hoedown, in hot pursuit by angry men who want to kill them, and the question eventually comes down to how can they escape the threat of immediate danger by pushing forward and forging through an equally dangerous swamp -- will they make it?

As the guards try to find a way out of their unexpected predicament, the story pits a fierce clan of deep-swamp Cajun men against an entire dispatch of weekend warriors carrying only blank cartridges in their weapons. I'll let you guess who wins?

But, it's the ambiance, especially during this particular scene, which I wanted to share with you anyway, because it correctly depicts the festive get-together which were so typical of the ones I grew-up around when I was a kid, and not so much the story's content. I hope you enjoy the fais do-do part and the Cajun French song (please don't ask me what the words mean).

A WORD OF CAUTION: For those of you with queasy stomachs, you may want to look away during the final seconds of the clip when a hog is put down for the boucherie.

Written and directed by Michael Kane, David Giler and Walter Hill, along with a cast of talented actors, (Autry, Ward, Coyote, Seales, Smith),  this movie strongly accents the message that one should not mess around with Cajuns and their way of life.

Although a bit presumptuous, the movie's timing was alright as it created wonderful fodder for the locals to talk about for generations to come. It evolved into a true Cajun cult classic.

I can almost hear a typical conversation now,  ... "there was a movie that was made 'bout us. Yep, it's true! ... just a couple miles south of here ... look over there ... from here you can see that part of the bayou where they did the filming. See the bend by that crooked oak tree over there ... look to the left ...".

But, in the overall grand scheme of things,  this film managed to create an image of Acadiana which became a little more noticeable and a tiny bit larger on the world scene than she had prior to its release. So, that was a plus.

At the same time it gave us yet another rare peek into the everyday lives of Cajuns living along the bayous and swamps of south Louisiana. (Did I mention the mosquito spray?)

CYL (catch you later)  Ahheee!!

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cacklin Cracklins

In a microwavable bowl add the following:

  • chicken skin of 1 med. fryer
  • salt and pepper to taste

On high, microwave the chicken skin until most of the oil is rendered out.

I usually cook mine for about 10 minutes, drain off the fat,  and continue on for another 3 to 5 minutes. Use you own judgment because each oven is different. If you cook the skin for too long it will burn. If you don't cook it long enough it will remain pliable and not crispy as cracklings should be.

If you are preparing a gumbo using powdered gumbo roux you may add the chicken oil (fat) to the gumbo for flavoring and cook it along with the other meats and vegetables, stirring occasionally.

When the gumbo is finished, the oil from the chicken skin will rise to the top. Take a few clean paper towels and soak-up the oil and discard the towels. The roux in the gumbo will have absorbed the wonderful chicken flavor and you can still get rid of the fat.

If you have rendered the chicken skin correctly, without burning it,  it will turn into delicious craklings for you and your guests to snack on while your gumbo is brewing. Break it apart and pass it around. It goes great with a couple cold brewskeys. Try it! I bet you will like it.

(I like to add a little cayenne pepper to my cacklin' cracklins.)

Ahheee!!  C'est bonne!

KT
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