#33 Catfish Courtbouillon

Catfish Courtbouillon (coo-bee-yon)If you’re a regular reader, you might have the impression that I’m a tomato hater. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Fact is, I believe that there’s a place for everything, and the best place in the world for a tomato is in one of my favorite fish dishes…the catfish courtbouillon (pronounced coo-bee-yon).

Catfish courtbouillon is a simple dish consisting of tomato sauce, bellpepper, garlic, onions, and catfish. The ingredients, excluding the catfish, are simmered together in a black iron pot for at least an hour, until all the flavors blend together and the tomato taste mellows out a bit. The longer you let everything simmer, the better the final dish will be. Near the end of cooking, the catfish pieces are dropped in, starting the hands-off phase of cooking. Once the fish hits the pot, there’s to be absolutely no pot stirring. Stirring would break up the fish, so it’s replaced by the occasional twisting of the pot to make sure the fish doesn’t stick. I remember watching my mom-mom twisting her pot back and forth, her big grandma arms flapping as she did it. It’s like you get to cook AND exercise at the same time (mais, buy the Cajun Black Iron Pot Workout™ video today and watch the lard melt away chére!).

It’s really hard to mess up a courtbouillon, but there are three rules that should never be broken. First, always use freshly caught wild catfish instead of pond raised fish. I believe it’s the wild catfish’s scavenger diet that gives it its signature taste (coupled with a bit of good old Louisiana water pollution). It’s also a lot of fun to catch the ingredients. The second rule is to cut the fish into steaks, not filets. Leaving the bones in will keep the fish from falling apart in the pot, and if you use larger catfish, the bones will be large enough to pick out. There’s nothing worse than picking small fish bones out of your food. And last but no least, always toss the catfish head in the pot. There’s some good meat on the head that shouldn’t be ignored, and don’t worry ’bout having to look your catch in the eye, cause you pop dem eyeballs out first.

The final dish is served over rice with some moque choux corn on the side. Here are a couple of good recipes I found, if you want to try making some for yourself.

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19 thoughts on “#33 Catfish Courtbouillon

  1. I actually made this last October but I used Red Snapper instead of catfish (it was the only fish I had in my freezer and I didn’t feel like going shopping). It came out ok, not as good as with catfish though. There is a restaurant in Lake Charles (forgot the name) that used to have the best courtbouillon. They left the bones in it which I think is also a good idea as long as you don’t choke on them.

    • Was it Paw Paw’s in Lake Charles? They would give a small complimentary bowl before you even ordered. It was the best!

  2. I learned how to pick out tiny bones at a young age. I remember taking a bit, and figuring out whether or not there was a bone in my mouth before swallowing. It’s an important skill for young Coonasses to master.

  3. Must always have Evangeline Maid bread at the ready when eating courtbouillon or fried bream. If one of the little bones gets stuck in your throat, a few bites of the heavenly dough will unlodge it pronto.

    BTW, hate…H-A-T-E courtbouillon. Nas pas tomat.

  4. For me, courtbouillon is not really a simple dish. IMO, red wine is an essential ingredient. Starting with a roux is good also. I like a dollop of Worcestershire sauce, sliced lemon, and brown sugar to offset the acidity while adding some taste. Toss a couple of bay leaves in too, as well as a diced Habenero pepper (you won’t need any cayenne pepper). Add diced tomatoes and stewed tomatoes for texture. After you turn off the stove, sprinkle diced green onions on top.

    Sorry C, I just couldn’t resist since courtbouillon is one of my specialties. I use redfish ’cause that’s what’s in the freezer, along with alligator or shrimp.

  5. I’ve heard goo was good in a courtbouillion. It is certainly too greasy to panee. I always found that flathead/opelousas catfish/goujon is best in this dish, as no matter how large they get, they never get too fishy tasting.

    Some friends and I cooked a courtbouillion at a camp in Ville Platte once, and the main cook mistakenly added 5 habaneros to the pot. He was not familair with their heat. The final result was very piquant, but the number of beers consumed left an empty pot. The next morning certain gastrointestinal difficulties resulted, making travel home difficult.

    • Now if you use gar fish you needn’t worry ’bout it falling ta peices! Ya can jes cook it fo’ an hour or so until the meat is tender but it won’t fall apart. I can’t say where you can buy gar in the sto’ but we could when I was at home in Louisiana. I know here in Florida we sometimes catch a 5-10 pounder and I kno’ jes what to do wid dem. Courtboullion!!!
      Florida Creole

  6. I am with mr.coon. Gaspergoo makes just as good a courtboullion and the firmer flesh holds together better. Hard to find in the stores, tho – you gotta out and catch your own.

    • You are absolutely correct about the ‘goo. My dad caught one about 20-22″ long, and was going to throw it back. I kept it and made courtboullion out of it, and it turned out great. You lose a lot of flavor, though if you don’t use the head.

  7. Although the yankees have added a fancy spelling to the name of this dish, all you real coonasses out there know that this is not really “courtboullion” right? The original pronounciation is “coo-bee-yon” with the “n” silent. It was actually the phrase that came close to “cube”, so, mixed with the cajun French dialect it is really “cubillon”…meaning that the tomato and the red snapper (or whatever meat) is “cubed” during preparation. I have no idea how in the world it turned out to be courtbullion. I guess some engineers wife at the petroleum club wrote a recipe book….

  8. I’m not a cajun but I’m interested in making this dish. I’ve found some recipes for this call for no tomato. Instead it has a roux, water, and seasoning vegetables, especially green onions. Is there a tomato vs. non-tomato argument about this dish?

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