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Blackened Catfish

This recipe is a tribute to the Honorable Judge Blacken D. Fish, who used to fire up the gas burner and cast-iron skillet out in his carport for any occasion which might conceivably call for Cajun-style catfish (Tuesdays, for example).  He taught me the importance of a good hot cast-iron skillet and a well-ventilated place to get it good and hot.  (I found out a few years later that the kitchen in my apartment did not qualify as such a place, alas.  This experience, in turn, taught me the importance of keeping a fire extinguisher within easy reach at all times.)

When I saw that my friend, the Bearded Quaker, had a burner fitted onto a propane tank for boiling the wort for homebrewed beer, I saw a perfect opportunity to put the Honorable Judge’s techniques to use.  If there’s a better way to spend a warm spring evening than playing with dangerously hot fire and drinking beer, I’ve yet to find it.

  • 1 cast-iron skillet, preferably inherited from a great-grandparent or salvaged from a garage sale
  • 1/2 c Cajun Spice Rub
  • 4 catfish fillets, about 3/4-inch thick (about 1 1/2 lbs. total)
  • 1 T vegetable or olive oil

Somewhere OUTSIDE where there are NO KIDS OR PETS running around, set up a gas burner (one of those turkey fryer jobs will do) and set the flame to high.  Place the cast-iron skillet on the burner and don’t plan on touching it for the next two hours.  Wait 15 minutes.  Have a beer.

Once the skillet is screaming hot (you can determine this by throwing a drop of water on it and watching it vaporize instantaneously), make sure you know where the fire extinguisher is.  Next, spread the Spice Rub out on a wide plate.  Drizzle the catfish fillets with the oil; rub the oil around so the fillets are evenly coated.  Press one of the fillets firmly into the spice rub, making sure the side is completely coated with a good layer of spice.  Flip and coat the second side.

Carefully put the fillet in the skillet.  Stand back.  Try not to inhale the fumes.

Resist the temptation to fiddle with the fish or to flip it too early.  This is called blackened catfish for a reason:  Let it get good and black.  You want to make sure the fish cooks through with just one flip; depending on the thickness of the fillet, you might need 3-5 minutes per side.  When the bottom of the fish looks firm and the edges of the fish are starting to cook, carefully flip the fish.  Sear for 3-5 minutes on the second side; the fillet should feel somewhat firm when it is cooked through.  Carefully transfer to a plate.

Repeat the above process with the remaining fillets.  Serve immediately with collard greens, cornbread and beer.

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