I love Japanese food. I grew up with teriyaki steak being one of my favorite treats. Later, I became a huge fan of sushi and sashimi.
Of course, there are some kinds of fish that I like better than others. I love tekka (tuna) raw, but I prefer my salmon well-done. This past week, I prepared catfish sashimi for my family, except that it wasn't supposed to be catfish sashimi. It was really just an exceedingly unfortunate meal.
I was setting out to make blackened catfish, which is quite nice when it works out properly. Because of the large amount of smoke that is produced in cooking the fish at such high heat, I typically set up the Coleman two-burner propane camping stove and do the cooking outside. This is the stove that I set up every Christmas when I make corn fritters. I've used it to make Navajo fry bread and beignets. It is a great piece of equipment and it probably gets used more just outside our kitchen door than it ever does on actual camping trips.
The other night, though, was a problem. I was planning on making six pieces of fish, which meant that I needed to use my BIG SKILLET. Unfortunately, it was one of the first cold nights of the season, so the skillet, even with the burner cranked up to high, didn't manage to get even close to as hot as it should have gotten. To make matters worse, it is getting dark a lot earlier than I'm used to planning for and we don't have a very good light on our side porch. All of this made for a perfect storm of problems and I ended up following my recipe but the end result was undercooked fish. Yuck. Fortunately, the microwave worked well enough to finish cooking the fish in just a couple minutes, but the overall effect was disappointing.
It should have been wonderful. In the past, it has been. But I've learned my lesson: the superskillet has too much surface area to keep hot on a cold night. Next time, I'll cook the fish in two batches in a smaller skillet.
Here's the recipe I used. If you follow it (indoors, with a good exhaust fan, or outdoors on a warmer evening or with a smaller skillet), I guarantee a great meal.
2 lbs catfish
1/2 lb unsalted butter
1/4 c lemon juice
1 T crushed red pepper flakes
1 T thyme
1 T basil
1 T black pepper
Combine all ingredients except fish and heat over low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit until cool.
Dip fish in butter mixture and refrigerate fish for one hour. Reserve remaining butter mixture.
If cooking indoors, remove batteries from your smoke detectors. Seriously. Don't forget to put them back in when you're done cooking.
Place dry cast iron skillet over high heat for 5 minutes, until skillet is very hot, nearly smoking. Place fish in skillet and cook for 2 minutes per side. (There will be lots of smoke.)
Remove fish to a platter and put remaining butter mixture in skillet and cook for a minute or so, until the butter browns. Serve fish with a drizzle of browned butter and spices.