10 February 2012

Ella Brennon's Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce and Southern Potato Salad

Ella Brennon's Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce
 and Southern Potato Salad
Ella Brennan was a student at McMain High School when her oldest brother, Owen, bought a restaurant in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Before long, the Vieux Carre Restaurant was on its feet and soon became a family enterprise that included all five of Brennan's siblings including her father, who had recently retired as a superintendent of the shipyard.  

Ella immersed herself totally in the restaurant business and learned every aspect. Ella herself was not a cook but she did develop terrific food sense and an educated palate. Today they are a New Orleans family that operate a dozen restaurants, including the renowned Commander's Palace, the one that most clearly bears her mark.The name Brennan is synonymous with the finest in New Orleans food. In 1974 Ella and her brother Dick took over the one-hundred-year-old Commander's Palace in the centre of New Orleans garden district, renovated it, and turned it into one of the most innovative, imaginative dining spots in New Orleans. At Commander's Palace she pioneered the notion of nouvelle Creole Cuisine Creole which has been changed to fit today's more health-conscious lifestyle. Only the freshest local ingredients are used, heavy sauces have been replaced by light sauce reductions that intensify spicy Creole flavours. The results have been glowingly praised. Did you know that Ella Brennon invented Bananas Foster?

 Ella Brennan provided a stepping stone at Commander’s Palace for superbly talented chefs, among them Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Dubbed the "Queen of Creole Cuisine" by People Magazine and heralded for both an incomparable attention to detail and an unmatched style of hospitality and warmth, Ella Brennan forged a level of service that was the match of any anywhere. 

Ella is mostly retired now but she lives next door to the restaurant with her sister, Dottie, and still walks the garden path to work two or three times a week.
What have we been up to with our latest Game Changer...
Mary of One Perfect Bite - Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce
Val of More Than Burnt Toast - Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce
Susan of The Spice Garden -Red Beans and Rice and Andouille Sausage, Blackened Whitefish and Creole Seasoning
Taryn of Have Kitchen, Will Feed - Milk Punch
Heather of Girlichef - Red Beans and Rice
Miranda of Mangoes and Chutney - Eggs Basin Street
Jeanette at Jeanette's Healthy Living 
Sue of View from The Great Island - Shrimp Creole
Linda of There and Back Again - Commander’s Palace Bread Pudding Souffle 
Barbara of Moveable Feasts - Cream of Eggplant Soup
Nancy of Picadillo
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits - Red Beans and Rice
Veronica of My Catholic Kitchen - Seafood Jambalaya
Annie  at Most Lovely Things
Claudia of Journey of an Italian Cook - Trout with Pecans
Alyce of More Time at The Table - Creole Bread Pudding
Amrita of Beetle's Kitchen Escapades - Bananas Foster

Mardi Gras which means "Fat Tuesday" in French falls on February 21st this year so get in the mood and have some good old fried catfish Southern style. Living in The Great White North catfish is not readily available so good substitutions might be tilapia, cod or flounder. Whichever you can find in your area. I can't say I have ever tried catfish until now. Imagine my surprise when I jokingly asked the young man behind the counter at one of our local fishmongers for some catfish. He did not blink an eye and asked me how much I needed. Is that my jaw dropping to the ground!

As described on Roadfood.com the perfect fried catfish is, " Sliced into a diaphanous strip that is sharply seasoned, lightly breaded, and quickly fried, a thin cat fillet crunches loudly when you sink your teeth into its brittle crust, which is sheer enough to let the rich flavour of the fish resonate.  So today I had catfish for the first time and served it with a red potato salad and a crunchy coleslaw as they might in the South. All I needed was some hush puppies and I would have replicated what I imagine was a true Southern feast. Catfish is not at all what I thought it would be.The firm, white meat of catfish is sturdier than most other white fish and has a delicate flavour and a small flake.

**Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce**
Lee Bailey's New Orleans by Lee Bailey with Ella Brennan,
1993, Clarkson N. Potter
  • 1 1/2 pounds catfish fillets (tilapia, flounder or cod)
  • 3 tablespoons Creole mustard
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Creole Seasoning
Tomato Tartar Sauce
  • 1 cup puréed peeled and seeded fresh tomato (or the same amount of canned)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup minced white onion
  • 1/4 cup drained sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Louisiana Hot Sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Whites of 2 hard-cooked eggs, minced
Cut catfish into 1/2-by-2-inch strips. Combine the mustard, wine, salt and pepper. Add the catfish strips and toss to coat well. Cover and marinate for an hour.

Heat oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees F. Mix together the cornmeal, corn flour, cornstarch and Creole Seasoning. Spread out on a sheet of waxed paper. Roll the marinated strips in the mixture, lightly shaking off any excess. Fry until golden, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve with tartar sauce.

Tomato Tartar Sauce:

Combine the tomato purée, wine, tomato juice, and garlic in a small sauce-pan and bring quickly to a boil, stirring, over high heat. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the mixture to 1 cup without stirring, about 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool.

Add the cooled tomato reduction to the mayonnaise, onion, and relish in a food processor. Purée the mixture and scrape it out into a bowl. Mix in all other ingredients, correct seasoning if necessary, and chill.

Makes about 3 cups.

**Southern Potato Salad**

3-1/2 lbs red skinned potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces with skins on
1/2 - 1 cup pickle juice
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup buttermilk
2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped 
3-4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
3 dill pickles, chopped

Cook the potatoes in boiling water for approximately 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Drizzle pickle juice over hot potatoes and toss gently. Cool to room temperature. 

Whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, dill, mustard, sugar and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over potatoes. Add eggs, pickles, and red onion and toss to blend. Refrigerate until serving time. 

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. I've never eaten catfish... Those fish fingers look wonderful and must taste wonderful with that tartare sauce.



  2. I'm adding these to a menu SOON. My oldest son is a huge catfish fan, and I'm thinking this tomato tartar sauce could wind up being a favorite of mine. Lovely pick!

  3. I have that Bailey cookbook...isn't it a gem? I love his cookbooks!
    Anyway, super dish, Val. Love that you've added all the accoutrements for a southern meal.

  4. Nothing beats catfish in New Orleans; we were there a few years ago and we had dinner at Commander’s Palace; what a memorable evening. great post.

  5. I love fishes and this look delicious Vall, what interesting you used polenta for this, I never use to fish, look nice, yesterday with daugther we made some fishes at oven with panko! bookmarked this Vall!

  6. You make the catfish sound so good, now I have to try it. I've been reading lately about how we're all supposed to be trying different kinds of fish so the common varieties don't get over-fished. You've made a good plug for the catfish here!

  7. You could have fooled me. The first thing I thought when I saw the picture is that it looked like a fine Southern feast. It doesn't need anything else.

  8. I love catfish. If you catch them, you have to sort of skin them to clean them. They are bottom feeders and eat just about anything. You picked a great recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Funny how catfish - in season in Minnesota has disappeared from the stores. When they re-appear - I'm going to have a go at this - you really nailed it. (I thought about doing Bananas Foster...)

  10. I love the meal you made for this catfish dish. I'm not much of a fish-eater so I have no idea what the differences between each fish are (oh the horror) :) But, your meal does sound delightful though, especially those potatoes!

  11. i balked the first time i saw eggs in a potato salad, but now i love it. great batch!

  12. Those are definitely NOT yo momma's frozen fishsticks. Way more delicious!

  13. So I've decided the reason I'm not a fabulous chef is because my brother never bought a restaurant. I'm going to bring that up to him the next time I see him.

  14. Val, I'm so sorry. I thought I commented here yesterday. I love the way you have served the catfish fingers. They look delicious and the salad is a great accompaniment. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  15. Love what you gals are doing with this. It is a real winner. Your recipe choices are inspiring. Love them both. The potato salad could become a favorite.

  16. I love your presentation and that you served it with the potato salad. I live in the South and have only had catfish a handful of times, but it is a nice mild fish. That potato looks awesome I'll be trying that.

  17. Congratulations on your winning entry for the FBC Slogan Contest! I loved your submission!

  18. I have never eaten catfish! I've been told though that it is very similar to bullhead, just a bit oilier. The plate looks delish and I'm all about that sauce!

  19. Southern fried catfish is the best! Whenever we have some its a treat:) So happy to have found your blog via Val's!

    Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours :)

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  20. Catfish done well can be a true pleasure and this sounds like a great recipe!

    We used to have a Cajun restaurant nearby that served catfish with pasta and wonderful red pepper sauce that I would love to replicate one day. Until then, I'd love to try this!

  21. Ella has such a jolly face, Val. :-) The catfish look divine! Perfectly browned and crispy. :-)

  22. Wow - that's one amazing lady! Love fishfingers, although I have never had catfish (gasp!). Defintely have to make a plan to get to the South soon...

  23. There is a joke here somewhere. Something about fingers and toes, but I just can't come up with it! GREG

  24. A delicious dish and story :D.
    Happy Valentine's day to you Val!!!

  25. Catfish is something I've just never had . . . so glad to learn something more about Ella Brennan. And, until I made my first and only trip to New Orleans, I'd never had Bananas Foster, which I now absolutely adore!

  26. This meal looks so fantastic Val!

  27. flounder is one of my favorite fish - it's been a while since i had it in NZ, this post brings back nice memories

  28. There's a fish in India we get called "Pomfret" and catfish is the closest in taste. I cook a lot of salmon, catfish and tilapia. When I fry fish, I use catfish. It's delicious!
    These fish fingers look so yummy especially with tartar sauce.

  29. One day I'll go eat at the Commander's Place in New Orleans. My husband works in Louisiana and I can go meet him. What a nice recipe, I've never had catfish before.


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