Please welcome my friend, Loren, who I’ve known since college and is a fantastic cook. Ever since I’ve known him, Loren has enjoyed trying to reconstruct dishes he’s had at various restaurants. He is a master at picking out flavor components within sauces, and can often do a pretty good recreation in the kitchen!
Today, Loren teaches us the tricks he learned while recreating the catfish from one of Cambridge’s best restaurants, Hungry Mother. I had the privilege of watching him cook while I was over at his house, and I snapped tons of pictures!
Please enjoy this guest post from Loren!
I love cooking and eating catfish — it’s cheap, meaty, and can be prepared any number of ways. My favorites in Boston are the Fried Catfish Sandwich at Redbones, the Cornmeal Catfish from Hungry Mother, and the Caramelized Fish from Le’s.
I was overjoyed when I saw that Hungry Mother had actually published its catfish recipe, so I decided to try it out. The results were fairly impressive and reproducible, and this was a good alternative for creating a crispy crust without the usual messy deep frying method. I followed the recipe closely, with some minor modifications.
The optimal order for preparing this dish is:
The vinaigrette recipe works well without major modification and is fairly simple. I didn’t have creole mustard, so I just used what I had on hand; any white wine or grainy mustard will work fine, or in my case I actually mixed a few together until I was happy with the taste.
2 tablespoons shallots, minced 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons mustard (Creole preferred; dijon works too)
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
1. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine shallots and vinegar. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the shallots to pickle.
2. Add mustard and honey to the bowl, and whisk until well blended.
3. Add canola and olive oils in a slow stream while whisking. Continue to whisk until the mixture is thoroughly combined, around 10 seconds.
The rice is by far the most time consuming part of this recipe, so I would suggest just using brown or white rice and a rice cooker unless you’re feeling ambitious. Baked Carolina rice creates a distinctively drier result though with a nice texture that complements the fish.
Unlike the recipe, I didn’t bother using spring water; I just used straight tap. And I added some large green peas, which is how the rice was served when I ordered this dish at Hungry Mother.
1 cup Carolina Gold Rice
1 tsp salt
6 cups water
3 tbs butter
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup peas
1. Bring the water and salt to a boil over high heat in a heavy saucepan. 6 cups is an estimate; you can use more if you’d like, but use a similar rule of thumb as with pasta, where you’re generous with the water so that it doesn’t become starchy while you’re cooking the rice. You aren’t making risotto or white rice where the water will end up being fully absorbed.
2. Add the rice, bring the water to a boil, then simmer on low heat, stirring frequently, uncovered, until the rice is just cooked through. An easy way to test the rice is to bite a rice kernel in half, checking that there’s no raw hard center.
3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300F.
4. Drain the rice through a colander, rinse thoroughly under cold water, until the water coming out of the colander turns clear.
5. Dry the rice out by pressing it against the colander with a paper towel. The drier the rice, the more impressively it will bake. The original instructions say to just shake the rice in the colander, but I find that actively pressing on the rice removes more water.
6. Arrange the rice on a rimmed baking sheet, spreading it as much as possible into a single layer. Bake for 5 minutes, turning rice every minute with spatula.
7. Slice butter into small squares, about 1/2″ width, and place on top of rice. Dust rice with salt and pepper and return to oven.
8. Bake for an additional 5 minutes, again turning rice every minute. At the end of this cooking time, the rice should be thoroughly dry and a bit golden. The cooking time doesn’t need to be precise; you can cook it longer or shorter depending on how firm you want the rice.
9. Boil a fresh pot of water and add the peas, cooking for 5-10 minutes or desired doneness.
10. Strain the peas through a colander, shaking gently to remove excess water, and add to rice.
11. Add rice and peas to bowl, mix gently with spatula, then cover to keep warm.
5 5oz catfish fillets
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup shelled pecans
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
Canola oil for frying
I followed the catfish recipe closely, and it’s actually fairly straightforward and foolproof. The only major change was adding pecans into the crust to impart a more complex, subtle nutty/sweet flavor.
1. Preheat oven to 450F.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, lightly beat egg, stir in milk, mix until well combined.
3. Add all catfish fillets into the bowl. Leave submerged while you prepare the next steps.
4. Process pecans in food processor until well ground, resembling the consistency of instant coffee. Be sure that the pecans and processor are completely dry, as any moisture will turn the the pecans into paste; if your pecans are damp or straight from the refrigerator, toast them briefly on a single layer until just hot to dry them out, being careful not to burn them.
5. In a shallow pan, combine cornmeal, flour, pecans, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Whisk until well combined.
6. In a large cast-iron skillet, add enough oil to completely fill the skillet to the depth of about 1/8″.
7. Start heating the oil on high heat.
8. Remove the catfish from the bowl one at a time, hold on end until excess milk drips off.
Dredge catfish in the cornmeal mix, turning a few times. Place prepared catfish on a large sheet. The whole catfish should be covered with a thin layer of breading, but not “thick”. If the breading is thickly coated, that means you need to let more milk drip off before dredging.
9. Let the oil heat up so that it is hot but not smoking. The temperature doesn’t need to be exact, but you’ll know it’s hot enough if you drop a bit of breading from the catfish (i.e. pinch off a small amount of breading from one of the prepared catfish) into the oil and the breading starts to fry vigorously.
10. Place a catfish into the oil, flat side down. If your skillet is large enough, you can fry multiple at once, but be sure that there is at least two inches between each fillet.
11. Fry for about 3-5 minutes until bottom is just crisp and golden. This doesn’t have to be exact since the purpose is not to cook the fish but just to crisp the bottom. You’ll know you’re done when the bottom is a crispy, golden brown. It should not be blackened at all.
12. Carefully remove the catfish from the skillet and transfer to a non-stick sheet pan, still flat side down.
13. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 4 minutes.
14. Carefully flip the fish over. Flip the fish along its width (like you’re turning a page of a book). Also, typically one edge of the fish will have a straighter edge than the other, so choose that side to flip around, sandwiching it between two spatulas while applying light pressure.
15. Cook for another 2-3 minutes in the oven.
16. Using two spatulas, carefully lift the fish from the pan to plate. Serve immediately.
Thanks Loren for taking the time to write out such a detailed, informative recipe! I can assure you that his instructions lead to a delicious meal (yes, I had the privilege of enjoying it too).
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