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.