Pan-Seared Catfish with Tomatillo-Root Vegetable Gratin

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Catfish is one of those fish that gets a bad rap because of its scary name. It makes you envision the fish, alive. No one really wants to do that. And the whiskers. Oh, the whiskers. But it’s actually a really delicious, mild white fish that’s versatile and affordable. Many recipes call for frying it, but this one pan-sears it, giving it a nice crust.

I made this for my girlfriends Shahnaz and Linnea on Monday night for my guilty pleasure — watching the Bachelor. Let’s be honest. This was risky, since Shahnaz is not a seafood eater. But I crossed my fingers and went for it. And I couldn’t have been more surprised when she liked it and even had seconds. If that’s not endorsement, I don’t know what is.

The fish itself is a really simple preparation and takes just a few minutes to cook. You  mix up a few spices — the cayenne is key for the heat — and rub it on the outside of the fish. Then you pan sear it in unsalted butter. Note: unsalted is key here. Otherwise, it will taste really salty. (Even too salty for me, the salt lover.)

The gratin is really interesting. The tomatillos add a whole new layer of flavor to the parsnips and potatoes, along with the smoky cheese. I couldn’t find smoked mozzarella so I used a mixture of smoked provolone and smoked gouda — I don’t think it melted as creamy as the mozzarella would have, but it was still good. It makes a lot, so you could probably cut it in half and still get 4-5 servings from it.

Together, it was a delicious meal. Yum!

TW’s Tips

  • The spice mixture makes a small amount — enough for a very thin layer of spice on the fish, which was perfect. But go easy and don’t put too much on the first couple fillets you season, so you have enough to cover all of them.
  • To give you an idea of how this worked for me — the 1 3/4 pounds of fish came to five fillets — but this will depend on how big the fillets are.
  • When you’re pan searing, don’t move the fish around. Let it sit there for the 3-4 minutes without moving the thing (seriously, put down the spatula). Then flip it and don’t touch it until you remove from the pan.
  • Follow the times they give you here when you’re cooking the fish. It can be hard to tell when the fish is done by just eyeing it, and overcooked fish is just bad.
  • I served this with a green salad.
  • You can make the roasted yellow pepper ahead of time, slice and store in the fridge.

Pan-Seared Catfish with Tomatillo-Root Vegetable Gratin

Ingredients

Gratin

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups sliced yellow onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons minced jalapeños
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil (1 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound rutabagas or parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced horizontally
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

Catfish

  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3/4 pounds catfish fillets
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Garnish: chopped roasted yellow pepper

Directions

To make gratin, in a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add onions, garlic, tomatillos, jalapeños and herbs and saute for 8 to 10 minutes. Add wine, cover and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large, 9-by-13 inch rectangular, lightly oiled Pyrex baking dish, place a thin layer of tomatillo mixture on bottom (1/2 of total). Then place a layer of rutabagas (1/2 of the pile you have) on top, followed by a layer of cheese and then a layer of potatoes (again, half of what you’ve sliced). Repeat sequence again and top with a sprinkling of cheese.

Put in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Cover and continue cooking for 10 minutes more. Remove and let rest, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile, combine paprika, herbs, cayenne, salt and black pepper in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Rub onto catfish on both sides. In a large saute pan or skillet over high heat, melt butter. Add catfish and quickly sear for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and continue searing for 2 to 3 minutes, or until done. Remove from pan and place on plates. Place squares of gratin on the side. Garnish with chopped roasted yellow pepper.

[To roast pepper, cook in 350F oven for 45 minutes on a baking sheet, turning periodically. Remove from oven and place in a brown paper bag for 8-10 minutes. Remove pepper, peel off skin, remove seeds and stems, and slice thinly.]

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