Like most people, I try to keep my email inbox from being cluttered with old emails, with marginal success.
Right now there are 69 emails in my personal account's inbox, and at least half of them are daily missives from Food & Wine magazine with links to recipes that I think, "I gotta make this some time."
The earliest one is from last September - Mario Batali's Pesto Pasta - and, no, I still haven't gotten around to making it yet.
A rub with nine different spices gives Cajun Pecan Catfish its bold flavor.
But for this food page assignment, I decided I was going to try one of those recipes, even if it only turned out to be the side dish. And since it's the day before the Fourth of July, I wanted to use the grill.
For the main course, I turned to a cookbook that has made me feel more comfortable cooking with fire, the James Beard Award-winning "Mastering the Grill" by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim. I did Garlic Hazelnut Chicken Breasts with Mustard Glaze from this cookbook for a food page last summer, and I've made Molasses-Brined Pork Chops with Roasted Corn Salsa from the book twice already this summer for the family.
But I decided to move outside of my comfort zone on the grill and cook fish. Except for shrimp, my grilling background is more in burgers, chops and chicken. Fish is easy to overcook, and it's also delicate. Even if it's cooked right, getting it off the grill and creating a pretty plate can be a challenge, and I knew I had to take picture of whatever I cooked.
Cajun Pecan Catfish
4 catfish fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each, rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup Cajun Blackening Rub (see recipe below)
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons (half stick) of unsalted butter
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Put catfish in a large baking dish and cover both sides with the rub. Cover dish and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Prepare the grill with a 12-by-12-inch coal bed or preheat gas grill to 450 degrees for medium-high, direct heat. Preheat well-oiled fish basket or grate.
Put the olive oil in a shallow dish. Dip each fillet in the oil and let the excess drip back into the dish. Put the fillets on the hot grill basket/grate. Cover and cook until the fish is cooked through and still moist in the center, about 5 to 7 minutes per side.
As the fish cooks, melt the butter in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet (either on the grill on a stove). Add pecans, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Cook until the nuts are toasted and fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes, shaking occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and parsley.
Serve each fillet topped with some of the pecan mixture.
Cajun Blackening Rub
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
Combine the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Makes about a 1/4 cup.
Grill-Roasted Bacon-and-Scallion Corn Muffins
5 slices of bacon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
4 large scallions, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Set up the grill for indirect grilling with all of the coals on one side. If there's a temperature gauge, it should be at 425 degrees.
Cook the bacon in a medium skillet on the grill or stove or in the microwave until crisp, drain on paper towels and crumble.
Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, black pepper and cayenne. Stir in the corn, scallions and crumbled bacon.
In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs with the sour cream and melted butter. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just blended. Spoon the thick batter into the muffin cups.
Place the muffin tin on the grate opposite the coals, cover the grill and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs attached.
Cajun Pecan Catfish sounded enticing to me. Others needed convincing.
''Am I going to like this?,'' one of my daughters asked. Even my mom, who remembered catfish as the bone-laden ugly breed that neighbors would catch when she was a child, gave a cautious yes to the dinner invitation.
Instead of using a commercially prepared spice blend, "Mastering the Grill" provides a recipe for the rub, and it's worth the extra effort. I used all ground black pepper instead of half black pepper and half ground white pepper, and I had smoked sweet paprika, but the plain sweet paprika should be fine.
The rub adds an aggressive flavor without overpowering the taste buds with heat. Those with nut allergies easily could leave off the spoonful of pecans and not feel deprived, although the buttery nuts and the acidity from the lemon juice really elevate the dish.
With dipping the fish in olive oil and a well-oiled grate, there were no sticking issues, although the cooked fillets are fragile. A couple didn't make it to the plate quite as pretty as the one in the accompanying picture. But they all tasted wonderful. Everyone agreed the recipe is a keeper.
From the Food & Wine emails, I selected Bacon and Scallion Corn Muffins. What makes these unique is that you "bake" them on the grill, and the smoke from the coals infuses them with a flavor that one can't get indoors.
I confess I cheated. There wasn't going to be room on the Weber grill to do the catfish and the muffins at the same time (not to mention the grilled asparagus, which I tossed with some salt, pepper and olive oil, and cooked around the fish).
Instead, I let the muffins cook for the first 10 minutes on the grill (turning the pan after five minutes and cooking with indirect heat) and then I moved the muffins indoors to the oven to finish while I redistributed the coals and filled the grill with the fish and the asparagus.
There still was a hint of smoke in the final product, although these muffins would be good cooked start to finish indoors. The bacon and scallions add enough flavor that they don't need anything else, but a smear of butter is a welcome addition.