in the kitchen with: adrian miller’s catfish curry

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We have an intriguing recipe this week from author and soul food scholar Adrian Miller. His recipe for catfish curry is of particular interest to me, and was wholly surprising because I never knew we had any form of curry as part of our culinary fabric in the United States. I think I need to read Adrian’s book, Soul Food: The surprising story of an American cuisine, one plate at a time, to learn more about this ASAP. This dish was incredibly easy and quick to make, and is definitely one I will tab for occasions when I don’t have a lot of time to cook. -Kristina (A quick disclaimer: I could not get catfish here in Italy, so I used cod for the photographs.)

About Adrian: Adrian Miller is a food writer, attorney and certified barbecue judge who lives in Denver, CO.  Adrian is a graduate of Stanford University and Georgetown University Law Center. He has served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, a senior policy analyst for Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Jr. and a Southern Foodways Alliance board member. Adrian is also a culinary historian who has lectured around the country on such topics as: black chefs in the White House, chicken and waffles, hot sauce, kosher soul food, red drinks, soda pop and soul food. Adrian’s first book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time was published by the University of North Carolina Press in August 2013. Since June 2013, Adrian has served as the Executive Director of the Colorado Council of Churches.

See Adrian’s recipe for catfish curry and learn a bit about its history after the jump!

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Fish curries were a popular Big House dish in the antebellum South. Both Martha Washington and Mrs. Randolph had recipes for this dish in their signature cookbooks. At some point, black cooks brought the dish into their kitchens. In 1939, Crosby Gaige’s New York World’s Fair Cookbook (from which this recipe is adapted) described catfish curry as “a favorite among the Negroes.”

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds catfish fillets
  • 1 quart water
  • 
2 medium onions, finely chopped (about 4 cups)
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 
2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • Boiled rice, for serving

Directions:
Rinse the fillets under cold running water and cut them into 2-inch pieces. Place them in a medium saucepan and add the water, onions, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the fish is tender, but not breaking apart, about 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to a serving platter and cover with foil to keep it warm. Boil the cooking liquid until it reduces to 1 cup, then keep it warm over low heat.

Combine the flour, curry, and butter in a small bowl. Mix with a fork or fingertips to form a smooth paste. Roll teaspoon-size bits of the paste into balls.

Return the cooking liquid to a simmer. While stirring slowly and continuously, drop the balls into the liquid one at a time, letting each one dissolve before adding the next. Cook until the sauce returns just to a boil and thickens to the consistency of gravy, about 5 minutes. Check the seasoning.

Pour the gravy over the fish and boiled rice, sprinkle some parsley on top, and serve hot.
From SOUL FOOD: THE SURPRISING STORY OF AN AMERICAN CUISINE, ONE PLATE AT A TIME by Adrian Miller. Copyright © 2013 by Adrian Miller, reprinted with permission of Adrian.

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Why Adrian loves this recipe

I love this recipe because it showcases the global aspects of soul food, and it was completely unexpected. I found this recipe in The New York World’s Fair Cookbook by Crosby Gaige (1939), and the author described it as “a favorite of the Negroes.” Imagine to find this Asian-style dish being embraced by African Americans during the Great Depression. That’s the kind of culinary gem that makes hours of bleary-eyed research worth it. Though it employs a French technique for making the sauce, it’s an easy recipe to make that uses a soul food standard like catfish and melds it with Asian spicing to make something truly delicious.

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Clare

Oh, I’ve added that book to my kindle list! James Villas’ The Glory Of Southern Cooking has been a cooking bible in this (Australian) house for five years now, in large part because of the history as well as the recipes. How awesome to have something that focusses on the history-bit, and on soul food in particular.

I find it really interesting that the recipe has been identified as soul food here. From my perspective in a (sort-of former) colony, the nonspecific “curry” is a British (colonial) dish.

The following have really interesting discussions on curry and colonialism:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8370054.stm
http://britishfoodhistory.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/the-oriental-clubs-mid-19th-century-mutton-curry/

Erin

I love this recipe but I can’t eat catfish. I’ll try it with Monkfish or Halibut cheeks.

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