Thu 15 Oct 2009
We don’t buy catfish often. In fact, the last time we cooked catfish was probably 10 years ago for a dinner party, and that was a Charlie Trotter recipe for Wok-Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce, a terrific dish from The Kitchen Sessions (Ten Speed Press, 1999), one of the “easy” Charlie Trotter cookbooks, as opposed to the “really hard” original series of Trotter’s cookbooks. Anyway, the truth about catfish is that you can raise them in man-made ponds and nurture them on the most nutritious food, but the bewhiskered little fuckers still taste like bottom-feeders. Which, of course, is part of their unique charm. Which people north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi River probably don’t get.
Anyway, the fishmonger at the Memphis Farmers Market had catfish last week, and we thought, “Oh, what the hell.” So, LL dipped the catfish fillets in milk and then panko bread crumbs and seared them in a hot cast-iron skillet, and when they were nice and crusty and brown, she took them out and fried some slices of onion. I sliced a couple of ciabatta rolls, smeared them with remoulade sauce and put a slice of tomato on each. The catfish fillets went on top and then the fried onions. Definitely catfish and definitely delicious, though, yep, a little funky and earthy as only catfish can be. As LL said, as we were eagerly chowing down, “You wouldn’t mistake this for anything but catfish.”
I opened a bottle of the Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles. Made almost all in stainless steel — a whisper of 2 percent is barrel-fermented — this wine is fresh, clean and lemony, through which qualities are woven hints of almond and almond blossom, quince and jasmine. Yeah, it’s pretty darned pretty. Totally dry, crisp as the click of a finger-snap, the Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc 08 offers pear and melon flavors with a touch of leafy fig and lemon curd, whatever richness it shows off-set by the presence of some astringent floral aspect and the slight bracing bitterness of a finish infused with grapefruit and limestone, all of this wrapped is an appealing, close to talc-like texture, balanced, again, by that vibrant acidity, and could this sentence possibly be any longer? Real class and breeding for the price. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
The remoulade sauce on these catfish sandwiches was fairly spicy, and this wine handled that spiciness and the earthiness of the catfish handily.
The next morning, while LL was at work, I made a white bean and turnip greens soup, using a recipe from a book we have leaned upon for years, Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996). The cannellini beans had already soaked overnight. It’s a fairly standard procedure, with garlic, onions and carrots, a piece of prosciutto, tomatoes, chicken stock and so on. You add the chopped greens about 20 minutes before serving and then garnish the soup with fried sage and shaved Parmesan cheese. It made a delicious lunch — we ate outside though it was a bit chilly — and finished the bottle of Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc 08 from the previous night, which provided a satisfying accompaniment to the hearty, flavorful soup, particularly as a foil to the earthy, slightly bitter greens.