Many moons ago, before Emeril was the “big thing” in New Orleans, there was this chef named Paul Prudhomme. The first time I ever had blackened anything was at his restaurant, KPaul’s. I used to go to New Orleans every year for the same trade show, and every year the lines waiting to get into his restaurant would run the entire length of Chartres Street. It was worth the wait every single time. The first time I ate there, I had Blackened Yellowfin Tuna. He just happened to be in the restaurant that night and he not only signed the cookbook I bought, but he signed my menu.
Since then, I’ve had many things “blackened,” including beef. But catfish has to be my all-time favorite.
This is best cooked in a cast-iron skillet, but I’ve also been successful using a non-stick skillet. The idea isn’t to burn the daylights out of it, but just to blacken it a bit. This recipe is for two catfish fillets, but it’s easy to double it if you’re cooking for more than two people. This is one of those no-brainers.
2 catfish fillets (usually about a pound or slightly over)
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp paprika
1.5 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
Butter or oil (do not use margarine; it will not work)
First, mix together all of the spices in a shallow dish that can accommodate the catfish. Rinse the fillets and pat them dry. Then place them in the spices, using your fingers to thoroughly coat both sides of the fish.
Put the butter or oil in the pan and heat the pan on medium-high heat. While you’re waiting for the pan to heat, be sure that you have your stove vent on and that you open some windows. If you are successful cooking this, you’re going to generate some smoke. That’s a good sign. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set off the smoke detector in my house.
Put the catfish in the pan and cook for about 4 minutes on each side. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat down! Searing under this high heat will release the flavors and the oils from the spices directly into the fish. Serve immediately with your favorite southern-style sides!