New Year’s Cast Iron Fried Catfish with Golden Black-Eyed Peas, Dijon Green Beans & Crispy Okra


The only traditions from my childhood I carry on today are the ones that either involve a cast iron skillet or an open flame. For New Year’s Day, my mother would cook black-eyed peas for good luck and boiled cabbage for monetary gain throughout the upcoming year, as countless other Southerns did and still do. I don’t remember our family having particularly good luck, however, and we definitely never had any money, but we would sit around the table anyway, with slow cooked Southern food sprawled about the counter tops of our tiny trailer house kitchen, and share a suspended moment of optimistic happiness together on New Year’s Day. We’d sit in our token spots at the table, take hold of each other’s hands, bow our heads with our eyes tightly shut and my father would lead us in sombering prayer. After a unison of amens, my mother would grant my little sister and I permission to pile our plates high with cornbread, peas, cabbage, fried chicken or pork chops and sometimes smoked brisket, if the grocery budget permitted. The comforting crackling of hot crisco smacking against a cornmeal crust in a cast iron skillet and the earthy, slightly smokey and herbaceous steam floating off a big pot of simmering peas is something that permeates the very fibers of your existence, whether you want it to or not. It took me more than a decade to separate out the few strands of my culture and childhood I felt worth holding onto and longer still to appreciate the shining moments of beauty splintering through the darkness of my haunted memories. The four of us sitting around that small table tucked tightly in the corner of that single wide kitchen on New Year’s Day, while feasting on simple Southern foods, is one of those few strands of time I clasp onto (a little too tightly perhaps) in my desperate attempt to cling to the lighter edges of my childhood memories. That specific feeling of familia I felt around that humble kitchen table, however fleeting it was in actual reality, sprouted a deep seeded craving within me for family and tradition, that I constantly attempt to manifest in all my cooking.

This year for my traditional menu, I picked up golden-eye peas to toss in with my black-eyed ones and found fresh okra at Newark Farmers Market. I added a head of cabbage to my cart but by the time I got back home I’d decided to give a go at fermenting fresh Sauerkraut instead and so left that off my menu. Amy requested the fried catfish so we popped into Captain’s Catch for the first time, and I picked up a couple hearty looking filets and a pound of frozen crawfish tails I just had to have. My New Year’s menu differs somewhat from the one I grew up with, but sitting around my kitchen island with my wife surrounded by simple, delicious Southern style food invokes the exact feelings of happiness and hope I felt sitting in my parent’s unpretentious trailer house kitchen.

Traditions, I feel, are meant to evolve over time ripening with improvement from generation to generation. That is the type of tradition I want to pass along anyway, and why I take the time to post my versions of the recipes I grew up watching the women of my family make. Whether black-eyed peas are truly lucky or not they are definitely delectable and so are a great addition to any New Year’s Day menu. So whether your traditional New Year’s Day entree is pork or fish or beef or chicken or tofurkey this Southern classic side dish is something I hope you will give a try. Delicious food is certainly important but, for me at least, the feelings of family and love and happiness should be the main ingredient of any meal, holiday or not.

Happy New Year!

Cast Iron Fried Catfish

Ingredients:

2 fresh Catfish filets

about 2 cups Buttermilk

2 tbsp Tabasco

1/4 cup coarse ground Cornmeal

1/4 cup fine ground Cornmeal

1 tsp Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, or to taste

about 1/4 cup Peanut oil, or oil of choice

Salt and Pepper to taste

Garnish: Lemon wedges and Tabasco

Method:

In a large mixing bowl or container with lid, add the buttermilk and Tabasco. Whisk until well combined. Add the catfish filets to the buttermilk and submerge as much as possible, adding more buttermilk if needed. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to overnight. Remove fish from the fridge and set aside. In a large casserole dish combine the Creole seasoning, coarse and fine cornmeal and stir until well combined. Taste the cornmeal then salt and pepper as needed. Set aside.

In a cast iron skillet, heat the oil until it is shimmering (about 2 inches worth of oil). Remove the catfish filets from the buttermilk, allowing any excess buttermilk to drip off. Dredge the filets in the seasoned cornmeal until well coated on both sides. Drop the coated filets in the shimmering oil and fry the fish until golden brown. Gently flip the fish and continue frying until the filets are cooked through and crispy. Gently remove the filets from the skillet and allow to rest on a cooling rack for a few seconds. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and Tabasco.

Golden Black-Eyed Peas

Ingredients: 

1/2 cup Golden-Eyed Peas

1/2 cup Black-Eyed Peas

2 tbsp rendered Bacon Fat, or oil of choice

2 slices thick cut Bacon, or smoked meat of choice

1 Red Onion, diced

1 Bay leaf

1 tsp Vegetable Better than Bouillon

4 sprigs fresh Thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded

1 clove Black Garlic

4 cups of water, divided

1 tsp Smoked Paprika

1/4 cup Dandelion Greens, optional

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

The night before you plan to cook the peas, add them to a large mixing bowl and submerge them in water. Allow the peas to soak overnight.

Drain the water off the peas in a colander and thoroughly rinse them. Add the peas to a small Dutch Oven of soup pot with about 3 cups of water. Bring the peas to a boil over high flame and add in the Vegetable Better than Bouillon, a pinch of salt and pepper, and Bay leaf. Once boiling, reduce to med high flame and continue to simmer until the peas are just tender and most of the water has been absorbed. Strain the peas through a colander and discard the bay leaf.

In a cast iron skillet over med high flame, fry the thick cut bacon, if using. (I used leftover smoked fatty ham chunks. Smoked turkey will work as well.) Remove all but 2 tsp of the render fat from the skillet. Add in the red onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the black garlic and smash it with the back of your wooden spoon and stir to mix it in with the onions. Add half the Thyme, Smoked Paprika, and cook about 2 minutes longer. Next add the peas and stir to combine. Add in the water, 1/4 a cup at a time, and continue to simmer the peas over a med low flame until they are very tender, about 20 minutes more. Once the peas are softened, turn off the flame and stir in the last of the fresh Thyme and chopped Dandelion greens. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve immediately with Tabasco, if desired.

Crispy Okra

Ingredients: 

1 to 2 cups fresh Okra, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise

about 1 cup Buttermilk

2 tsp Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

2 tsp Smoked Paprika

about 1/2 cup Fine Cornmeal

about 1/2 cup Masa Flour

about 1/4 cup Cornstarch

about 1/4 cup Peanut oil, or oil of choice

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method: 

In a large mixing bowl, add the buttermilk and Creole seasoning. Stir until well combined. Add in the sliced okra and set aside.

In a large casserole dish, add the cornmeal, Masa flour, cornstarch, Smoked Paprika, salt and pepper. Mix well, taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Set aside.

In a cast iron skillet over high flame, heat the oil until shimmering (about 2 inches worth of oil). Once the oil is hot, remove the okra from the buttermilk in batches and dredge in the cornmeal mixture. Fry in the skillet until golden and crispy. Continue until all okra is fried, keeping it warm in the oven if necessary. Serve immediately with Tabasco, ranch dressing, or condiment of choice.

Dijon Green Beans

Ingredients: 

1 lb Green Beans, trimmed

2 tbsp Dijon Mustard, or to taste

1 tsp Grapeseed Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large casserole dish or sheet pan, toss the green beans in the mustard, oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Serve immediately dressed with additional Dijon and cracked black pepper, if desired.

 

 

 

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