My Cajun recipe for Catfish Courtbouillon uses a pungent seafood stock (I make mine from dried shrimp) and the addition of a couple of spoonfuls of dark roux. Rather than the red gravy Creole version, in this Cajun recipe for courtbouillon I use a light hand on the tomatoes favoring canned diced tomatoes rather than a thick tomato sauce. I do add an extra dose of hot and spicy to this dish and once you try it you will understand. This is an old-school Catfish Courtbouillon recipe and a tribute to the Cajun cooking traditions that have been preserved and passed along to new generations of cooks. And now to you.
Rosalie Fontenot Waldrop is my mother-in-law and a sweet Cajun lady who grew up in rural southwest Louisiana at a time when change threatened the traditional French Acadian way of life. Back in the post-war 1940s and 50s there was a movement afoot throughout Acadiana to eradicate the French language and homogenize Cajuns and Creoles into a more mainstream way of life.
Rosalie was raised in a predominantly Cajun French-speaking family in Allen Parish and as a schoolgirl she recalls that children were punished (some made to kneel in grains of rice) for speaking anything but the English language in school. In those days, there was a shadow of shame cast over Cajun French traditions and her language, customs, music and foodways were in jeopardy.
It was the emergence in 1968 of an organization called the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) that rescued the culture from extinction and breathed pride back into Cajun ways. Today, CODOFIL is a strong political advocate and social force in promoting the language and culture of French-speaking Louisiana. Cajun and Zydeco music is recognized (Grammy-winning) worldwide as a significant genre and Cajun cooking is heralded as one of the most unique food cultures in America.
And these days, you can walk into most any small-town barbershop anywhere in Acadiana and hear the Cajun French language spoken with pride. Even in the city of Lafayette there is a popular trend of “French tables” in small cafés where anyone can sit down and listen in on the Cajun French conversation. And best of all are the traditional music halls that host Cajun jam sessions of French-speaking musicians in the rural towns that dot the Cajun landscape.
My wife’s mother never lost her love for her rural upbringing and the virtues of a simple Cajun life. She still adheres to many culinary rituals that she learned from her mother growing up in the small enclave of Kings Farm near Kinder, Louisiana. One of those is a Lenten season Cajun recipe of Catfish Courtbouillon. As any good Catholic in Acadiana knows, Fridays are for seafood during that six-week period of prayer and fasting called Lent held each year between Ash Wednesday and Easter. This special Cajun recipe for Catfish Courtbouillon was one that was on the Fontenot table frequently.
If you’ve ever been to France and eaten in a Michelin-rated restaurant, you’ve surely seen a courtbouillon dish on the menu. Well, this is nothing like that. The classic French technique is related to gently poaching fish in a delicate, herb-infused stock, while the Cajun recipe version of catfish courtbouillon (coo bee yon) is a downhome South Louisiana fish dish. It’s a highly seasoned stew featuring tomatoes along with the holy trinity of vegetables and a good seafood stock. The French use upscale fish such as sole or turbot, while here in Louisiana it’s usually whatever fish are biting that day. Redfish or even lesser fish like gar or gaspergou show up in the courtbouillon pot, but the favorite Cajun recipe of most rural homes is catfish courtbouillon.
- 4 strips smoked bacon, chopped
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 2 green bell peppers, chopped
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 medium fresh jalapeno, seeded and diced
- 2 cups canned diced tomatoes, drained
- 4 cups seafood stock
- 2 tablespoons dark roux, such as Rox's Roux
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 pounds catfish fillets, cut into large pieces
- 4 cups cooked Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- 1 cup diced green onion tops, for garnish
- In a black iron pot with a heavy lid over medium-high heat, add the bacon pieces and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon and reserve.
- In the same pot, add the onions, bell peppers, and celery to the bacon grease and sauté until browned. Reduce the heat and add the garlic, parsley, thyme, jalapeno, and tomatoes. Stir to incorporate and add the stock and roux. Stir the mixture and add the bay leaf and bacon pieces along with the seasoning and hot sauce. Cover and let cook at a simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Uncover the pot and taste the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste along with any additional hot sauce until it achieves your desired heat level. 15 minutes before serving, submerge the catfish fillets into the sauce and cover. Cook at a simmer until the catfish is tender, about 10 minutes. Cover, turn off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- For plating, mound a large portion of rice in the center of a plate or shallow bowl and spoon the courtbouillon sauce around along with pieces of the catfish. Sprinkle with green onion tops and serve with hot French bread and more hot sauce on the side.
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