catfish steaks and heads

My Uncle Clarence, referred to on the streets as Cheeky Black made this stew for everyone all the time.  When I was a little girl this dish was made using catfish heads and steaks.  We would visit the fish market to buy our fish and get a big bag of catfish heads FREE.  Folks would buy the fish, but they didn’t want the heads. There is a lot of meat on the heads, not just meat BUT delicious sweet mild flavored meat around the jaws of the catfish.

I am gonna share a dear and funny story with y’all.   I have a dear friend; her name is Dee Dee she ate this dish with me when we were kids. A couple of years ago she asked me to make her some courtbouillon when she realized it was made with catfish heads she said that all right I don’t want any!  I laughed uncontrollably for a couple of minutes; went to the store bought some whole catfish, with heads,  and a couple of steaks and made a big pot of courtbouillon.

Courtbouillon(pronounced coo-bee-yawn) is a spicy thick catfish stew served with white steamed rice and French bread for sopping. Uncle Cheeky would say darlin the secret to making this gravy is to always poach the fish.

4 cups of fish stock, 1/3 cup self-rising flour, 1/3 cup butter flavored shortening, 6 slices bacon, 2 medium onion, julienned,  1 cup diced celery, 1 small green bell pepper, julienned, 4 garlic cloves, minced, 1 ( 14 1/2 oz.) can stewing tomatoes, 1 (3 oz.) can tomato paste,  1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning, 1/2 tablespoon black pepper, 3 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons dried thyme, 1 tablespoon Worchestire sauce, 1 cup frozen whole okra, 1/2 cup frozen lima beans, 1/2 cup French Sauvignon Blanc, 4 catfish heads ( pop out the eyes before you put the heads in the pot), 2 pounds catfish, cut in steaks, hot sauce to taste, 1 bunch green onions, cooked rice, and lemon wedges.

Let’s make the stock:  1 (.5 oz.) package dried shrimp, 1 white onion, 2 celery stalks, 3 1/2 cups water,  1/2 pound fish bones, 2 carrots, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes. Bring to a rapid boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for at least 45 minutes.  Remove from heat allow to steep for 30 minutes.   Strain and set aside until ready to use.

Cut up the bacon slices, dump the bacon into a large heavy pot, and fry until crispy.  Add the onions, bell pepper, and celery, sauté until the onions are clear. Lower the heat and add the garlic, thyme, seasoning salt, pepper, stewing tomatoes, tomato paste, cayenne, and Worchestire sauce, continue to cook for about 15 minutes.  In a cup add the flour and 1/3 cup of stock, whisk until there are no lumps.  Add the flour mixture, lima beans, bay leaves, and wine to the pot, stir.  Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Uncover, stir, and taste add salt, pepper, and hot sauce as needed.  Add the okra the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Submerge the fish in the pot with the stock, make sure the fish is completely covered.  Cook the fish uncovered for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked. Remove tomato-based mixture from the heat, spoon the poached fish into the pot and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar remove from the heat and rest for 10 minutes.  Serve with steamed white rice, garnish with chopped green onions, flat-leaf parsley, lemon wedges and hot French bread for sopping.

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