Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Bay's Blues Continue

The Chesapeake needs your help.  Whether you pledge your allegiance to the Virginia or Maryland side doesn't matter.  There is a common enemy to both states that is decimating the natural inhabitants of both state's waterways and it's only going to get worse.  Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the wild blue catfish.

The blue catfish was introduced to the James, Rappahannock and York rivers in Virginia during the 1970's as a recreational fishing option and has since expanded into the Potomac River.  Populations of these catfish have not only flourished but, just recently, exploded.  These bottom dwellers are responsible for eating juvenile and adult rockfish, blue crabs, menhaden, shad, herring, white and yellow perch, and many more important species.  During the spring spawning season, a blue cat's diet consists mainly of fish eggs, so for two months out of the year the blue cat decimates other species by gobbling them up before they even have a chance to hatch.  Right now fishermen searching for rockfish are pulling up nothing but catfish.  In the James River alone, blue cats account for 80% of the biomass, a good indicator that they have devoured everything else in the river.  Wild blue catfish are now found in every tributary in the Chesapeake Bay, leading some scientist to assert that the blue cat invasion could be the greatest threat the Bay has ever faced.

There is a way you can help to change this and, luckily for us, the catfish is it's own enemy.  The next time you are in the mood for seafood, give catfish a try.  Blue catfish are actually quite delicious and, due to their abundance, they are extremely affordable.  Blue catfish is often sold in fillet form, skin and bones removed, and the white flesh is great for sautéing and baking.  A little oil in the pan, salt and pepper on the fish, 3-5 minutes a side on medium high heat and 10 minutes later you have a healthy meal.  Even more satisfying than it's mild, briny flavor is the fact that you have helped save the bay while dining on this savory, troublesome critter.  I usually put brown sugar and cayenne on my catfish or I enjoy it fried po' boy style.  Either way, every time it meets a plate we are one step closer to improving conditions in the Bay with as little effort as picking up a fork.  Eat local, eat sustainable, eat the blue catfish.

Here's a recipe courtesy of BlackSalt chefs:

Cornmeal Crusted Pan Fried Maryland Catfish w/Smoked Veal Sausage and Seafood Gumbo – serves 4-6 ppl

Roux –The single most important step in this process. ALL the flavor is born here.
1lb AP Flour
1lb Bacon Fat, Beef Fat or Clarified Butter

In a heavy bottomed pot at least 8qts in size add fat, then flour and begin to toast flour. Once it smells like biscuit dough transfer the pot to a 350 degree oven for an hour or so. Stirring the roux every 20 minutes until a deep rust or brick color is achieved; it will smell similar to burnt popcorn.  I baby my roux often because the closer you get to over-cooked the deeper the flavor you develop.

Salt + Pepper season and taste as you go
1 T Tomato Paste
1lb Smoked Veal Sausage Small Diced (We make our own but any smoked veal or beef sausage will do)
6 Jalapenos seeded and small diced
4 Anaheim Chiles seeded and small diced
3 Spanish Onions seeded and small diced
1 Head of Celery small diced (Reserve leafs and mince)
12 cloves of Garlic fine minced
1 T Dry Mustard
1 T Cayenne
1 T Red Chili Flake
4 Fresh Bay Leaf, 1 Bunch Thyme tied together with butchers twine
1 Bottle Green Hot Sauce of your choice
2 Bottles of Light Bodied Beer (Your favorite porch drinkin beer)
3 T Gumbo File
4 Qts Beef Stock
1lb Crab Meat
1lb Crawfish Tail Meat
Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Bunch Scallion Sliced

Once the roux is finished you need to start assembly right away. Add the tomato paste to the roux and brown lightly. Add sausage, vegetables, dry spices (but not the file yet), bay leaf and thyme and sweat in the roux over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the vegetables soften slightly. Begin to whisk in one bottle of the beer and add the green hot sauce. The mixture will thicken rapidly at this point you can begin adding the beef stock in 1 quart increments. Stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a boil then turn down to a very low simmer. Continue simmering slowly for 1 hour skimming the mixture of any scum that forms. Add crab meat and crawfish and heat through. Lemon juice and more hot sauce to taste.

Wild Maryland Blue Catifish

2 lb Wild Blue Catfish cut into 5-ounce portions
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 Cups Fine Ground Yellow Corn Meal
1 Pinch Cayenne
1 Pinch Ground White Pepper
Fine Sea Salt for Seasoning
Canola Oil for Frying

Pre-Heat your cast iron skillet over medium heat with a ½ inch oil. Season cornmeal with cayenne and white pepper.  Pat catfish dry season on all sides with salt and lightly coat in buttermilk, then cover with the cornmeal mixture shaking off excess. When the oil reaches 350 degrees gently lay the catfish in the pan frying on each side for 2 ½ to 3 minutes. Drain on a cooling rack.

Serve gumbo and catfish with plain or dirty white rice, sliced scallions, celery leafs, remoulade, lemon slices and of course plenty of hot sauce and beer.


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