Grilled Catfish Tacos with Avocado Remoulade

When you come from a town that celebrates catfish with its own annual festival, you develop a particular love for it that can be a little hard to explain to someone who just thinks of catfish as a bottom-feeder (and maybe has only eaten the imported stuff). The best fillets IMHO are small and fried, served with tartar sauce and maybe some fried oysters as well. You’re already eating a fully fried meal, after all — throw caution to the wind!

Whenever I visit my parents, they send me back with bags of frozen catfish fillets and shrimp — all local and all delicious. The only problem is that I hate frying; it’s funks up the house and then you have to worry about what to do with the oil, so the catfish tend to sit in my freezer for a while before I do anything with them. But earlier this week, just in time for Cinco de Mayo, I was craving fish tacos and thought I’d give catfish a whirl.

To avoid the issue of frying and having a fishy smell permeating our house, I took indoor cooking out of the equation altogether and fired up R2Eat2, our new gas grill. (Thanks to my sister-in-law’s mother for the fantastic name suggestion!) I marinated a pound of fish fillets in the juice of one lime, with a hefty four-fingered pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. After 15 minutes, I spread them out on a sheet of heavy-duty foil and sprinkled the tops with paprika for a little color and grilled them on the foil with the grill lid down till the fish flaked easily, around 10-12 minutes.

I like to keep accompaniments simple for fish tacos, so I sliced some Napa cabbage thinly and tossed it with baby arugula and more lime juice and salt. But the real star here was the remoulade I made instead of salsa.

Cajun Remoulade with Avocado | Minimally Invasive

Remoulade recipes vary a lot based on location; the original French versions are typically mayonnaise-based with lots of herbs while Cajun and Creole remoulades are shot through with heaps of minced vegetables and are more piquant, as you’d expect. They’re usually either mayonnaise- or oil-based, but wanting neither one, I thought that avocado might be a delicious and healthier alternative.

I based the remoulade on Emeril’s recipe, substituting an equal amount of avocado for the oil, and doubling the cayenne pepper because I like it spicy. I thought of adding some capers at the end, but decided against it because the remoulade was perfect just as it was. You can knock Emeril all you want, but I’ve never been disappointed with any of his recipes. I made the full amount of remoulade and we were left with a lot, but it goes well with all sorts of dishes, not just seafood. I grilled hamburgers the next day and topped them with a good slather of remoulade and it was a marriage made in heaven.

So even if you’re not in a fish taco mood, give this remoulade a try — you’ll love it.  I gar-on-tee.

As you can tell, I’m not always so active on this blog, but I am a fool for Instagram. Follow along with our daily exploits here.


The Ins and Outs of Pesto: I’m Sorry

I’m sure you don’t want to know this, but pesto made with a mortar and pestle really is better than pesto made in a food processor.

I know, I know: It’s a LOT of work and more difficult than dumping ingredients into a bowl and pushing a button, but you just can’t argue with the creamy, airy texture. I didn’t really notice any difference in flavor and probably won’t bother with the labor-intensive method TOO often, but when I have time and my inner gourmand demands it, I will.

Read the article that finally convinced me to try it. Maybe you’ll be convinced, too! I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe, substituting walnuts for the Italian pine nuts I couldn’t easily find. (Note about the photo: I wasn’t quite done yet, but the light was fading fast, so I shot by the window then returned to my labors.)

Chive Blossom Vinegar

Eight years ago, Gil and I were newlyweds enjoying our first summer together in this house. We started decorating and renovating — projects that continue to this day — and I tried my hand at gardening, not realizing in that rush of excitement over having a yard that we barely get enough sunlight for grass, let alone tomatoes. But I have managed to grow many pots of herbs on our second-floor bedroom deck over the years. They require almost no maintenance beyond a good dousing during dry spells, but the lowest maintenance herb of them all (and thus, the closest to my heart) is my chive plant, which still returns every Spring and still delights me when it does.

Chive Blossoms, Jar | Amy Roth Photo

That first summer, I learned that chive blossoms are edible, and sprinkled them liberally over green salads, potato salads and omelettes for a hint of onion flavor and a dash of color, but never thought to do anything more than garnish with them until just last month. I follow David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria on Facebook, where he posted a link to his chive blossom vinegar just as my blossoms were coming in, so that became my latest project.

Chive Blossoms in Jar | Amy Roth Photo

Though my single plant produces more chives than we can consume in a season, the amount of blossoms it yielded was only enough for a tiny jar of vinegar. Still, three weeks later, I can assure you that the volume is sufficient and should last a while. The vinegar is the pink of a deep rosé and has a pungent, savory-sweet aroma that can really get your juices flowing, culinarily-speaking.

Chive Blossom Vinegar | Minimally Invasive

I’ll try it in a vinaigrette the next time I make a salad, but today, I used it to perfume and season a kale and spinach pesto, which I tossed with zucchini noodles for a Paleo take on pasta.

Zucchini Noodles with Kale Pesto | Minimally Invasive

There’s no recipe for this dish since my pesto changes each time I make it; I just throw things into my food processor and adjust the seasonings before tossing it with my base of choice. Today, I broke out my spiral vegetable slicer on the first zucchini of the season (thanks, Bialas Farms!), simply salting the noodles lightly and letting them drain in a colander until it was time to dress them. For the pesto, I tossed a little of this and a bit of that into my food processor: a handful of spinach and two handfuls of dinosaur kale, some chopped, toasted almonds, grated Parmesan cheese, a few chives, a hit of basil-infused olive oil (a delicious indulgence from Olive That in Montclair), extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sugar to balance the kale’s earthiness, a pinch of salt, lemon juice and a splash of the chive blossom vinegar. It sounds like a lot of cooking when the ingredients are listed that way, but it really wasn’t. It took all of 10 minutes to throw everything together and sit down to a really satisfying lunch.

Of course, you can make this without the chive blossom vinegar this summer because it’s probably too late for you to indulge, but please give it a try next year. This vinegar is a wonderful way to enjoy those spring blossoms for an extended season.

What HAVE We Been Doing, Anyway?

It’s been a fun holiday season and while I loved having Gil home for two weeks of vacation, I’m excited to get back to work and dive into new projects! Our break, as illustrated above:

  1. While home for Christmas, I had lunch with my friend (and artist) Riece Walton at Spahr’s in Des Allemands, LA, where alligators are known to pop up behind the restaurant. No luck — good or bad — that day, but I kept my eyes peeled just the same. (Thank you for the warning, sign!) The catfish chips and fried oysters were just as good as I’d remembered, but the hush puppies blew my mind. Not just crispy, but shell-shatteringly so with a moist interior and more seasonings than corn meal, they were easily the best hush puppies I’ve ever tasted.
  2. The cold weather kept us mostly inside once we were back in NJ and cabin fever set in. It’s always the dogs who suffer most in these situations and this time was no exception. They found themselves posing for pictures in the adorable snoods we bought at the Greyhound Friends of New Jersey craft show. (Pictures and downloadable cards of the boys are available in my Etsy shop along with lots of other goodies. The boys are also featured on this site’s home page, if you want to check them out.)
  3. Oh! AND THEN Gil and I attended the faaaabulous 12th Night Midwinter Masque hosted by our friends Nancy Hightower and Valya Dudycz Lupescu this past weekend. (And thank you to Marco Palmieri for the pictures!) My mask was a public hazard, but I got the hang of it by the end of the evening. Apologies to all I hooked, stabbed or otherwise inconvenienced throughout the evening. Also, Amy’s Mask: 5, Crystal Snowflakes Hanging From Ceiling: 0.

Now, bring on Carnival season!

Pear Butter | Minimally Invasive

I’ve also been making good use of that pear shipment I mentioned in my last post. I worked up this recipe for pear butter at Thanksgiving, when I realized I’d forgotten to buy applesauce to go with the latkes. Not wanting to go grocery shopping on Thanksgiving morning — if shopping was even an option — I chose instead to make something with ingredients already in my house. This pear butter is spicy, warming, complex and just the tiniest bit sweet. Also? It’s simple to make and takes kindly to fiddling.

Pear Butter Ingredients | Minimally Invasive

I’ve already made another two batches and changed things up successfully each time. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Pear Butter

Use a variety of pears or just one type, if you prefer. The quantity of sugar is merely a suggestion; you’ll have to determine the level of sweetness you want based on the pears you have and what you think the final result should be. My pears weren’t especially sweet and I didn’t want a sugary product, so two tablespoons worked well for me. The St. Germain was added more for its perfume than flavor; feel free to use another liqueur or omit entirely if it’s not your thing. Use it any way you’d use apple butter or try it warmed and spooned over vanilla ice cream for a luscious treat.

6 ripe pears, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup water
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 small star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or 2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon St. Germain liqueur

Put all ingredients except liqueur into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until pears are soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When pears are soft, remove star anise and cinnamon stick and blend with immersion blender on low speed until pears are the consistency you like. Stir in St. Germain liqueur. Taste and adjust salt/sugar, if necessary.

Sauce keeps five days in the refrigerator, longer if frozen