As Bayou Bakery chef-owner David Guas's Aunt Boo likes to say, "once you've got the roux done right, everything else about Cajun cooking falls into place." It takes time and arm power to develop the roux; she says a proper one should be "the color of the bayou after a heavy rain." Here, it serves as the base of a long-simmered sauce that has just the right amount of spice.
Lemon juice and lemon slices brighten things considerably. Feel free to leave the slices in when serving; Aunt Boo says they are "fought over" at her table.
Don't be afraid to nurture a pronounced spiciness in the sauce; keep in mind that its level of salt, spice and heat will diminish once the fish is added and the dish is served with rice.
Servings: 6 - 8
- 3 medium yellow onions
- 4 ribs celery
- 1 medium green bell pepper
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup flour
- 15 ounces canned (plain) tomato sauce
- 10 ounces canned Rotel brand tomatoes and chilies, plus their juices
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or more as needed
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, or more as needed
- Juice of 1 lemon, plus 3 or 4 thick lemon slices
- 2 pounds bite-size chunks of boneless, skinless catfish fillets (may substitute alligator, rabbit or chicken)
- 1/2 cup chopped scallion tops (green parts only)
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Chop the onions and celery into 1/2-to-3/4-inch pieces, keeping those vegetables separate. Discard the stem and seeds from the bell pepper, then cut into 1/4-to-1/2-inch pieces. Coarsely chop the garlic.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat. Use a flat wooden spoon to stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 minutes; color should start to develop after about 10 minutes. Do not burn the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then stir in the onions until well coated. Cook for 5 minutes or until the onions have softened, then add the celery, bell pepper and garlic. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often. The roux should be at least caramel brown in color.
Stir in the tomato sauce, Rotel tomatoes/chilies and juices, bay leaves, broth, salt, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and lemon slices. Increase the heat to medium; once bubbles start to form at the center and the mixture has thickened, give it a good stir and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring a few times along the way. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
The color of the sauce should be a nice terra cotta; stir in the catfish chunks and cook for 10 to 20 minutes or just until the fish is opaque and tender. Discard the bay leaves.
Stir in the scallions and parsley. Serve hot, over rice.
Adapted from "Tastes, Tails & Tales With the High Priestess of the Bayou," by Janice Boo Macomber (self-published, 2009).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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