Friday, June 20, 2008

Vietnamese Southern-style Catfish in a Clay Pot

I haven't tried this one yet, but I grew up on wild Tennessee River Blue Channel Catfish. We used to harvest them ourselves daily off the face of the Pickwick Dam near Savannah, TN. And I'm not so sure about this clay pot business. I'm thinking cast iron.

From Mai Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (William Morrow, $27.50). Making caramel (burnt sugar and water) as a base for a savory dish is a classic Vietnamese technique. Although the dish is traditionally made in a clay pot, "it's also delicious cooked in a regular pot," Pham writes. For a spicier version, add red pepper flakes with the fish sauce.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2/3 pound fresh catfish fillets, cut in halves or thirds
1 green onion, cut in 1-inch lengths
4 sprigs cilantro, cut in 1-inch lengths
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place the sugar in a 1-quart clay pot and add just enough water to barely wet it. Heat over moderate heat until the sugar starts to turn brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir once, then add the oil and garlic. Stir for 1 minute, then add the boiling water, fish sauce and catfish pieces. Turn the pieces so they are evenly coated with sauce. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the catfish is firm and almost done, about 5 minutes. Uncover and simmer an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened. (If the sauce is too thin, you may want to pour it off, boil it down in another pot, then pour it over the fish.)

To serve, garnish with the green onion and cilantro and season with pepper. Serve directly from the clay pot.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.
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