Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Catfish Simmered in Caramel Sauce

I always feel bad saying I didn't like a recipe.  I thought the catfish was mushy and the flavors were muddy.  Actually, I often think that with catfish.  I also thought that the sauce was rather sweet and one note.  But in the recipe's defense, Alex really enjoyed it.  And we modified the recipe quite a bit to use catfish fillets instead of catfish steaks.  I just didn't like it.  But I rarely like catfish.  I thought after we made the Crispy Catfish with Onions and Ginger from the same cookbook that I absolutely loved, that I was over my general dislike of catfish, but maybe not.  So again, I can't blame much of anything on the recipe itself.  Instead I think our modifications are to blame.

Then I made Komatsuna and Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic.  Alex and I joined a CSA and I was super excited after we picked up our first batch of veggies today.  In addition to the komatsuna (aka Japanese Mustard Spinach) and the spinach, we also got dandelion greens, arugula, oregano, breakfast radishes, and scallions.  I can't wait to use all of them.  Since we were already going Vietnamese with the catfish, I decided to adapt a recipe intended for water spinach to use for our veggies this evening.  Again I thought the recipe was a little sweet, but once I topped it with a little sriracha I liked it, although I thought it could have used a touch of acid.  

Not our best dinner ever, but it was far from a bad meal.

Recipes after the jump!

Catfish Simmered in Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors
By Andrea Nguyen


1 lb. basa fillets (Vietnamese catfish)
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp Caramel Sauce (see below)
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
5 scallions, whites only, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

Rinse catfish fillets and pat dry.  Cut into roughly 6 oz. portions.  In a shallow dish, stir together brown sugar, pepper, salt, caramel sauce, and fish sauce.  Add catfish fillets.  Turn to coat in the mixture.  Allow to sit and marinate for 15 minutes.

Heat a shallow cast iron pan with a lid over medium.  The pan should be just large enough for the fillets to fit next to each other.  Add oil.  Once the oil is hot, add garlic and scallions.  Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add catfish, along with all of the sauce from the dish to the pan.  Adjust the heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.  Check on the fish after 5 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan.  If the pan seems dry, splash in a little water, and then return the lid to the pot and continue simmering.  After the 10 minutes is up, uncover, add water to almost cover the fish, and bring back to a gentle simmer.  Cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Uncover and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half and has thickened slightly.

Taste the sauce and adjust the flavors to taste with additional brown sugar and/or fish sauce.  Carefully transfer fish to a shallow serving bowl.   Pour sauce over fish and serve.

Caramel Sauce
Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors
By Andrea Nguyen

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water, separated

Fill the sink with 4 inches of water.

Add 1/4 cup water and all of the sugar to a small, heavy saucepan with a long handle.  Heat over medium-low heat.  To ensure that the sugar melts evenly, stir with a metal spoon.  After about 2 minutes, when the sugar is relatively smooth and opaque, stop stirring and allow the mixture to cook undisturbed.  After 7 minutes of cooking, bubbles will cover the entire surface and the mixture will be at a rolling simmer.   Don't worry if a little of the sugar crystallizes on the sides of the pan.  As the sugar melts the mixture will become clear.  After about 15 minutes, the sugar will begin to caramelize and deepen in color.  The sugar will go from champagne yellow to light tea to dark tea.  When smoke starts rising, about the 20 minute mark, remove the pan from the heat and slowly swirl it.  Watch the sugar carefully as it will turn darker by the second - it will turn reddish (like red wine) with burnt sienna colored bubbles.  When the caramel under the bubbles is the color of black coffee or molasses, place the pan in the sink to stop the cooking.  Add remaining 1/2 cup water.  After the dramatic bubble reaction ceases, return the pan to the stove over medium heat.  Heat the caramel, stirring regularly, until the caramel dissolves into the water. 

Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  Pour caramel into small heatproof glass jar.  Set aside to cool completely.  Cover and store the sauce indefinitely in a cool, dry place.

Komatsuna and Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic
Adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors
By Andrea Nguyen

3/4 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp canola oil
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. komatsuna (or bok choy), stalks removed and leave trimmed to roughly 1-inch by 2-inch pieces
1 lb. spinach, thick stems removed and leaves torn in half
 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tsp water

Combine sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and 2 tsp canola oil in a small bowl to make the sauce.  Set aside.

In a wok, heat the 1 1/2 tbsp canola oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds.  Add komatsuna and spinach.  Stir-fry until vegetables have all begun wilting, about 2 minutes.  Add sauce.  Toss with greens to distribute evenly.  Add cornstarch slurry.  Cook until the sauce thickens slightly and becomes shiny.

Transfer to a plate and serve.

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