Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

I should really come up with names for my dishes well before I go to post them. Tonight I spent half an hour on this one, only to arrive at “Thai-inspired Peanutty Rice Noodles with Catfish, Okra, Acorn Squash, and Onions,” … way too long.

This may seem like an asian-creole fusion dish, but it’s not since both okra and this catfish (I used Pangasius) are common to asian cooking.  Anyway, the dish is a rather nice mix of catfish, vegetables, and rice stick noodles (banh pho) with a sweet sauce including acorn squash, coconut cream, and peanut butter.

I apologize for the horrible state of the following “recipe,” but I didn’t measure anything and I’m apparently in a narrative mood; you’re probably not going to make this anyway. (That there is what’s called a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”)

First I soaked dried banh pho noodles in water to soften them. Then I baked a small acorn squash, halved with “guts” removed placed in shallow water in a baking dish, for 40 minutes in a 375° F oven.

Meanwhile, I prepared the rest of the sauce: a combination of fish sauce, soy sauce, water, brown sugar, peanut butter, and coconut cream. When the acorn squash was cooked, I scooped it from the skin and mixed it completely into the sauce with a wisk.

In a large pan with canola oil, I fried the catfish (thawed from frozen) and onion strips (thinly cut from half a large yellow onion). Once those were mostly cooked, I reduced the heat, added sliced okra (defrosted from frozen) and fresh thai bird peppers. Once the vegetables were warmed, I added the sauce (~2 cups total) and added the drained noodles to the pan, stirred carefully, and simmered until desired consistency.

I served the dish topped with cilantro leaf and chili garlic sauce.

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

I couldn’t find any precedent for this dish in my cursory search for Internet recipes.
Many thai dishes have catfish and others have noodles, but apparently the two don’t usually touch. If you’re familiar with one, please let me know. :)

Blackened Catfish Sandwich

Blackened Catfish Sandwich with tzatziki and pea shoots

Here’s a nice, simple, spicy catfish sandwich.

First spice a catfish filet generously with a mix of: oregano, thyme, granulated (dry) garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne powder to taste.  (I used a frozen swai filet, thawed in water, then patted dry.)

Pan fry the filet in oil (I used sunflower oil) on medium-high heat, until it is cooked through and possible to flake with a fork.  The hotter the pan, the more likely the spice mix will blacken.

Place the filet atop a nice roll and top as you like.  I smeared the sliced roll with a homemade tzatziki sauce (greek yogurt, dried dill, minced garlic, salt, pepper) and added coarsely chopped fresh pea shoots (these typically being available from asian grocers.)

While I have only recently started using this asian catfish, sold in the U.S. as “swai,” it definitely has a wonderful taste and texture that rivals our american catfish and it cooks similarly, i.e., it is forgiving to pan fry owing to, I assume, it’s relatively high fat/oil content.

I like the combination of the spicy fish with the soothing, garlicky tzatziki sauce, and some sort of fresh greens; give it a try!

Blackened Catfish Sandwich

Tea-Smoked Catfish

Tea-Smoked Catfish on Cucumber with Honey Tzatziki

Tonight I experimented with a Chinese cooking technique: tea smoking, that you can do indoors in your kitchen… if you want to stink up your house; ha ha, only kidding; my housemate arrived mid-smoke and said it smelled pretty good. :)

I learned about tea smoking on Chef Ming Tsai’s program, Simply Ming, perhaps a month or two ago.

First, tea smoking typically calls for a covered pan with a lid, and a screen or wire grill that can fit inside to suspend the fish or meat above the smoking materials.  I decided to use an old pan that I no longer use, and should have discarded because the non-stick surface is flaking off.  I figured it was perfect for this application since the food doesn’t come in contact with the pan’s surface and it has a tight fitting lid.

I lined the pan with two layers of aluminum foil, and placed the smoking materials in it: some uncooked Calrose rice, Darjeeling tea, brown sugar, and some tarragon leaves.  (The tarragon was once fresh, but that was a long time ago, so I thought cremating it was reasonable.)  I used Darjeeling, an Indian rather than Chinese tea, simply because that was the only leaf tea I had on hand.  I don’t see why you couldn’t use any tea, even ground tea leaves, though.

Ingredients and tea-smoking materials in a pan.

The fish I chose was an unusual kind of catfish, well, unusual to most Americans: it’s sold here by the name “Swai,” and is a typically farm-raised in the Mekong Delta region.  This fish is just a bit lighter and more flaky (less meaty texture) than U.S. catfish. While technically a catfish, it isn’t allowed to be sold by that name here because it competes with the U.S. farm-raised catfish.  If you’d like to know more about this increasingly popular and sometimes controversial fish, you can read more in my recipe for  Moo Shu Catfish.

I prepared the thawed fish filet (3-4 oz., about 1/2″ at its thickest point) by rubbing it with some five spice powder and brown sugar and placing atop napa cabbage leaves in a steamer to be placed in the smoking pan, with another layer of aluminum foil between the steamer and the smoking materials so that they don’t adhere to the steamer as they burn.  (I didn’t have a screen or wire rack, so I improvised by temporarily removing the plastic handles from my rice cooker’s steamer basket.)

Swai fillet atop napa cabbage, ready for smoking.

Next, I set the burner to a medium-high heat, and when it began to smoke a bit, covered the pan with a tight-fitting lid, reduced to medium heat, and cooked for 15 minutes; luckily the lid was just high enough to accommodate the steamer basket.

After those 15 minutes, I removed the pan from the heat and allowed it to sit another 15 minutes, then uncovered it.

The tea-smoked and cooked Swai fillet.

I served the filet on lightly salted, peeled cucumber slices (overlapped, otherwise they can’t be picked up with chopsticks!) and topped it with a simple tzatziki-like sauce of greek yogurt, minced garlic, black pepper, salt, and a touch of honey.  While I used fresh garlic here, I’d suggest using roasted garlic as the sauce’s garlic flavor was a bit harsh for this mild fish.

Tea-Smoked Catfish

So, the verdict? The fish was moist and tender with a significant smoky flavor, but quite unlike that of wood-smoked fish. It’s a tasty option. I do think, however, I would have experienced the smoky flavor more genuinely had I not been essentially standing in or over the smoke for a half hour or more just prior to dinner. :)

I’ll experiment with different rices and teas, and perhaps tea-smoke a brined Cornish game hen before baking it.

Lastly, I see why some tea smoking demonstrations suggest covering everything with foil (including the lid). The smoke mixes with the moisture and can make for a couple extra minutes of scrubbing during clean-up.  It’s super easy to just discard the foil instead.

Here are the recipes I consulted:

Moo Shu Catfish

Moo Shu Catfish

This is a delicious moo shu that I made with an asian variety of catfish.

To make this dish, pan-fry a light-flavored, white fish fillet in canola oil with thin strips of fresh ginger and a bit of chili garlic sauce, removing it as soon as it’s cooked and flakes easily.
In the same pan, deglaze with perhaps 1/3 cup thin sauce made of water, oyster sauce, honey, bean paste, and soy sauce and quickly stir-fry thinly-sliced cabbage, matchstick carrot, sliced scallion, thinly-sliced black mushroom, and bean sprouts. Remove while vegetables are still slightly crisp; flake the fish and add it to the mixture. (You might also add scrambled egg, as in many moo shu recipes.)
Serve wrapped with moo shu pancakes or in a flour tortilla as I did here, or with rice.

I bought the fish by the name “Swai”; it’s also known as basa, tra, panga (e.g., France) or pangasius, vietnamese river cobbler (U.K.?), and iridescent shark (although it’s a catfish, not a shark.) In the U.S., it is not allowed to be sold by the name “catfish” because it competes with U.S. catfish in the market.
It’s a commonly farmed fish in the Mekong Delta region.

I made Ginger Catfish previously, and this is likely the sort of fish that would be used in Vietnam.

Here’s some more info on the fish, which has gotten some scrutiny as it has become popular world-wide with a commensurate explosion in farming of it in asia. Perhaps surprisingly, it has become one of top ten most popular fish in the U.S., due to its flavor and low cost. (For instance, I bought a 6.5 ounce fillet for under $2.)

“What is Pangasius? Only the 9th most consumed fish in the USA”

“Pangasius hypophthalmus”

Here is a documentary film, critical of its farming, c. 2008:
“Qu’est ce qu’un Panga ?”

Spicy Cornmeal-crusted Catfish

Spicy Cornmeal-crusted Catfish

Pan-fried catfish fillets are one of my favorites. Here the catfish is dipped in an egg/milk wash and coated with cornmeal, seasoned with crushed rosemary, oregano, thyme, turkish paprika, cayenne powder, salt and pepper and pan-fried. Topped with a sauce of mayonnaise, hot pepper sauce, minced cilantro leaves, and lime juice.

Accompanied by roasted potato stacks (sweet and russet potato, with olive oil, garlic, salt and peper, sprinked with thyme leaves) and sautéed red cabbage and spinach, with pine nuts, and tossed with a mustard vinaigrette dressing (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, garlic, and black pepper).

Here are some related recipes:
“Roasted Potato Stacks”

“Red Cabbage and Warm Spinach Salad”

Certified Yummly Recipes on Yummly.com

UPDATE: The recipe search site Yummly selected this recipe of mine and dubbed my blog “Certified yummly.” :)

“Kickin’ Catfish Recipes for National Catfish Day”

UPDATE (March, 2014): Here’s another nice version from ThingsMyBellyLikes.com!
Southern-Style Fried Catfish

Ginger Catfish

Ginger Catfish

I wanted to use the fresh ginger root and catfish I had on hand and found this, apparently popular, Vietnamese dish.

Here I prepared it much as describe in the following recipe, except I added diced eggplant (at the same time as the catfish) rather than bell pepper and substituted brown sugar for white. Also, cutting thicker catfish strips, as in the video below, will keep them from disintegrating during cooking. Instead of fillets, you can use the less expensive catfish chunks sold at, Hy-Vee, for instance.
Optionally, you can carmelize the ginger and add water to make a browner sauce.

“Ginger Catfish (Trey Cha K’nyei)”

“ginger catfish” video:

I served it on sticky Calrose rice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calrose_rice) and with sesame rainbow chard.

Interestingly, the Vietnamese fish is likely to be “basa”, a catfish but not so closely related to those in the U.S.

Spicy Curry with Catfish

Spicy Curry with Catfish

Tonight I made a hot curry spiced with one fresh habanero chili.

This curry was prepared similarly to an earlier curry, with garam masala, cumin powder, toasted cumin seed, turmeric, nutmeg, star anise, cinnamon, a spicy chili powder, a thinly-sliced fresh habanero and these vegetables and fruits: onion, garlic, red potatoes, acorn squash, apple, eggplant, rainbow chard, a yellow tomato, and cilantro. I also added a can of coconut milk, some honey, and peanuts. The large catfish fillet was splashed with lemon juice, seasoned with salt and pepper and pan-fried in canola oil, then divided into smaller pieces to serve.

I’ve definitely overcome my aversion to cooking things with very many ingredients since this dish has more than twenty-five!

Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos are one of my favorite dishes at restaurants, so lately I’ve been preparing them myself!

Red Cabbage Slaw: Toss finely sliced red cabbage with a citrus onion vinegrette dressing. Prepare dressing, in a blender, by pureeing ingredients: sweet onion pieces, apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, brown sugar, garlic, salt, pepper, celery seed. (Alternatively use orange juice rather than lemon and reduce amount of sugar.)

Pico de Gallo: Mix diced tomato, finely diced sweet onion, diced ripe avocado, finely diced jalapeno or serrano pepper (seeds removed), lime juice, mexican oregano, salt.

Fish: Here I used catfish chunks; tilapia, salmon, or shrimp are also good choices. Dip either strips of fillet or slightly larger-than-bite-sized fish pieces in an egg wash and coat with a spiced flour mixture, e.g. spiced with: salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, perhaps a touch of cayenne. (I like to use Morton brand “Nature’s Seasons” which is a salt blend including onion, celery, and parsley as well. This time I also used a touch of a spice blend called Vulcan’s Fire Salt: http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/Vulcans-Fire-Salt Be sure to limit additional salt if you use salt-based blends.)
Alternatively, you can use a cajun blackening spice rub rather than an egg/flour batter.
Pan fry and place on paper towels to draw oil.

Assemble tacos in warmed corn tortillas at the table to your liking.
Here I also added sour cream; you may like cheese instead.