Experimenting with food is what makes things fun. Sometimes they work like this one, and sometimes they don't (like using kalamata olives instead of capers in a chicken piccata. I seriously don't recommend that one.)
With Mardi Gras just around the corner, I'm having fun researching and cooking up some classic dishes with a modern twist or two. Last night's dinner was Catfish Etouffee, using quinoa instead of rice.
Now, before we get into the recipe, one question that people always seem to ask when it comes to cajun style cooking: What's the difference between Jambalaya, Gumbo and Etouffee?
Honestly, it can be more than a little confusing. All three dishes use almost the same ingredients - meat, vegetables, stock and rice, but each one comes from a slightly different location and is prepared a slightly different way:
Jambalaya got its' start in the Caribbean Islands and moved to the New Orleans area when Spanish settlers attempted to cook their traditional recipe for Paella using the foods available in the area. Saffron is a key ingredient to Paella, but was expensive to import, so the Spaniards substituted tomatoes.
Gumbo originated in Louisiana in the 1700's and is a little more soup-like and thickened with either okra, filé (ground up sassafras leaves) or roux. Gumbo is more like a side dish to the main course.
Etouffee is a more recent Cajun invention, sometime around the 1920's. It uses traditionally crawfish or similar seafood, thickened with roux and served over rice.
I'm also a spicy food wuss, so this dish is pretty mild. If you want to kick it up a few degrees, add red pepper flakes or a good pinch of cayenne pepper at the end.
2 cups water
4 tablespoons brown roux
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (I used red, but green is more traditional)
2 teaspoons of garlic, minced
2 cups beef broth
1 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce (you could also use Worcestershire)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds catfish fillets, cut into chunks
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
red pepper flakes (to taste)
Add the water and quinoa together in a small pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.
While the quinoa is cooking, start your roux in a large pot. A roux is basically a thickening agent using equal parts flour and fat. Add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of flour together over medium heat. You could also use bacon grease instead of butter, which makes for a really nice flavor. Stir this with a wooden spoon until the flour is cooked. You are looking for a light tan color.
As soon as you get the roux to the right color, add the chopped onion and bell pepper. Cook for about five minutes. Just enough to get the onions slightly translucent.
Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Don't burn the garlic or it will turn bitter.
Add the beef broth and tomatoes and season with the lemon juice, soy sauce, bay leaf, pepper, thyme and salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer this mix for about 30 minutes.
Add the catfish and parsley and simmer, partly covered for 10 minutes - just long enough for the fish to flake easily with a fork.
Traditionally you would serve this poured over rice, but I like the idea of just adding the quinoa to the pot and mixing everything together.
Serve in a big bowl with some bread and you're good to go.