Sunday, September 20, 2015

15. Peanut-Crusted Catfish Tacos with Cabbage and Fresh Herbs in Pineapple Sauce


So, what kind of taco is this, anyway?  Turmeric-marinated catfish?  Thai fish sauce?  WTH?

I don't know what to say about that.  I can only tell you where the inspiration came from.

This week, for some reason, I was thinking about a dish that I had at Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon.  If you're not familiar with Pok Pok, it's a Thai/Vietnamese/pseudo Asian-fusion(?) street food restaurant.  One of my sisters lived in Portland for a few years.  I tried to visit her as often as I could.  For someone who loves food, it's an amazing destination.  We've had a few delicious meals at Pok Pok over the last several years.  It was always a good time.  It's a popular place.  We would usually have to wait about two hours, so we became very well acquainted with the Whiskey Soda Lounge (affiliated with Pok Pok) across the street.  Ha ha.  They make a mean Earl Grey tea-based cocktail!

Portland is one of those places that tends to make you wait for the cool things.  We waited for Pok Pok.  We waited for Salt and Straw.  We waited for Voodoo Doughnuts (until we figured out that Blue Star is where it's at).

This is me with my youngest sister, Jennifer.  Melissa (our middle sister and the former Portland resident) was the photographer.  Look at that line!  I think this was April of 2013.
Good times.  Great memories.  But, I digress . . .

One of the dishes that we had at Pok Pok was a catfish and noodle dish.  The catfish was so flavorful and fresh tasting!  I have the Pok Pok cookbook, written by chef Andy Ricker, which includes the recipe.  I was thinking about making a fish taco anyway, so I decided to try and incorporate the flavors of the catfish dish into a taco.

The result was . . . different.  Ha ha.  Not bad, but I would change some things.  First things first - here's what I did:

Peanut-Crusted Catfish Tacos with Cabbage and Fresh Herbs in Pineapple Sauce

Serves 4 (About 8 generous tacos)


For the marinated fish:

1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. peanut oil
2 tbsp. dry white wine (Yes, I realize this is a ridiculously small amount of wine.  Just drink the rest of it.  You're welcome.)
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 lb. catfish fillets, sliced into thick strips (I had about 18 strips.)

For the pineapple sauce:

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh pineapple
1 medium clove garlic
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. peanut sauce
1 tbsp. Thai fish sauce (I used Squid brand.)
1 serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped

For the cabbage and herb mixture:

3 cups chopped cabbage (use a mix of purple and green for color)
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 to 1 cup flour

1 egg, beaten and mixed with 1 tbsp. water

1 cup roasted, lightly salted peanuts, plus more (chopped) for garnish
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

8-16 corn tortillas, depending on their size and whether you plan to double them up

Nonstick cooking spray


1.  Marinate the fish:  Combine the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add the catfish strips and toss.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour.

2.  While the fish is marinating, make the pineapple sauce:  Combine all of the sauce ingredients except the serrano pepper in a small bowl.  Blend with a hand blender until relatively smooth.  (Alternately, you can use a blender or food processor.)  Stir in the chopped serrano pepper.  Cover and set aside.  Mine looked like this:

3.  Combine the cabbage, herbs, and green onions in a medium bowl.

4.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the 1 cup peanuts and panko in a food processor or blender and carefully grind.  Don't make peanut butter!  :)  Place the ground nuts and panko on a plate:

Place the flour in a shallow bowl.  Place the beaten egg and water in another shallow bowl.  Make an assembly line for the fish - flour, egg, and peanuts:

Take each strip of fish and allow the excess marinade to drip off.  Dredge in the flour.  Dip in the beaten egg.  Roll in the peanut mixture, pressing the mixture into the fish so it adheres to the egg.  Place on the baking sheet.  Repeat these steps until all of the fish is coated.  Bake in the oven for about 12 minutes or until the fish is done.  Turn the fish about halfway through the cooking process.  Here's what mine looked like when I took them out:

5.  Toss the cabbage-herb mixture with about 1/3 cup of the pineapple sauce.

6.  While the fish is cooking, prepare the tortillas to your liking.  There are a few different ways you can do this.  When I am making tacos with soft corn tortillas, I heat a dry cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  I place a large sheet of aluminum foil near the pan.  I heat each tortilla in the skillet for about 30 to 60 seconds on each side, or until it softens and begins to brown.

After each one is done, I place it on the foil and immediately start the next one.  I stack them on top of one another as I work.  When I'm done with the whole batch, I wrap them completely in the foil.  Since this is basically the last step in this recipe, they shouldn't need to be kept warm.  I only heat the number of tortillas needed for each meal.  It's easy to make fresh tortillas for leftovers!  

7.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  Place a couple of catfish strips down the middle.  Top with some of the dressed cabbage and herbs.  Drizzle with a small amount of extra pineapple sauce.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and enjoy!

When I started this project, I decided that I would be totally honest about the results.  So, here's me being totally honest:

This is the first taco recipe I've created so far that I would really want to revise.  Don't get me wrong - it was pretty good.  We ate it.  I made a few wrong calls, though.

I don't know why I baked the fish.  I suppose I was thinking that it would be really convenient to heat the tortillas while the fish was baking.  Looking back, that seems like a silly reason.  It would be completely possible to multi-task and heat the tortillas while frying the fish!  

I should have known better.  I'm not a fan of baking things that should really be fried.  This fish should be fried.  The time in the oven wasn't enough to make the coating crispy.  If I had kept cooking it, though, the fish might have been overdone.  

If you make this, I would recommend frying the fish in hot oil (about 375 degrees) and draining on paper towels.  Due to the nature of this project, I don't have the luxury of testing the recipes.  I have a full-time job (that has nothing to do with cooking), and these recipes truly are invented right before I make them!  Maybe after the project is over, I'll refine some of them.  At this point, it is what it is!  Ha ha.  

My dear husband was so convinced that the fish would have been better fried that he actually re-fried the leftover fish while I was cleaning up.  Here it is:

I had a bite.  It was so much better!  I see some leftover peanut-crusted fish in our future!

A couple of other things to note:  First, I got the idea for my herb mixture from the Pok Pok recipe.  I never would have thought to include dill with mint, cilantro, and green onions.  I thought it sounded strange, but decided to go with it.  I was OK with it, but Steve didn't like it.  He thought the dill was out of place.  Maybe the combination is an acquired taste?  Secondly, I think the peanuts in the coating were too much.  If I had it to do over, I would probably use half peanuts and half panko . . . or maybe even 1 cup panko and 1/3 cup peanuts.  I love peanuts, but I probably went overboard!

I think this recipe has a lot of potential!  Feel free to laugh at my misadventures - I do!  Hey, I'm a big believer in "Go big, or go home!"  How am I ever supposed to create anything exciting without a gamble now and then?  At the very least, maybe this will spark some ideas for another recipe - for you or for me!

I love cooking.  It's always interesting, and it's usually fun.  It was fun today.  :)

I love you, Pok Pok!  (And Whiskey Soda Lounge!  I could use one of those Earl Grey cocktails right about now . . . ha ha.)

Please comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Am I getting too weird?  Don't worry, my next one will be a bit more traditional - I've already decided that!  :)

Thanks for reading!

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