I haven’t been to New Orleans in over ten years, but I think of her often, especially during Mardi Gras season. Cooking up a proper gumbo is a bit much for a midweek meal, so I decided to go with something a bit lighter and easier which still incorporated some of the flavors of New Orleans cuisine. Mike started us off with a round of Sazerac cocktails and fried oysters, and then I got to work on the rest of our meal.
To make a quick version of red beans and rice, I softened a cup of onion in some olive oil, then added a dab of tomato paste and stirred in a half-teaspoon each of cayenne, thyme, marjoram and smoked paprika. A pint of my homemade chicken stock went into the pan next, along with a can of red beans, drained and rinsed. I added a bay leaf and a healthy pinch of kosher salt, then covered the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes. I stirred in half a cup of white rice and a bit of water, re-covered the pan, and let it cook about another 20 minutes until the rice was cooked.
While the rice and beans were cooking, I steam-sauteed some chopped collards in a bit of olive oil, placing them into a hot pan with a pinch of salt, and (again – it’s my new favorite ingredient) a bit of smoked paprika, allowing a little bit of water from rinsing to cling to the greens. I gave them a stir and let them soften while I turned my attention to our fish.
I got a shallow layer of canola oil heating in the cast iron skillet while I prepped a couple of beautiful catfish filets. I poured a couple of cups of fine cornmeal onto a plate and seasoned it with salt and cayenne pepper. I coated each of the filets with the cornmeal mixture, pressing it into the flesh lightly, and then placed them into the hot skillet, cooking them on the first side several minutes until they were golden brown, and turning them very carefully with two spatulas to finish them on the other side for a couple more minutes. Once the filets were cooked, I removed them from the pan and sprinkled a little bit of smoked paprika over the tops before serving.
We cracked open a couple of Abita Restoration Ales and dug in. I’m sure our dining experience would have been improved had we been sitting on a covered balcony, overlooking the French Market and the river beyond, but I can’t complain… good food and good company makes every meal a celebration.