Get gone, convention! I make ratatouille like I want, and I want mine with some f***ing catfish!
I had previously thought ratatouille was just the name of a Pixar film that I had never seen. But it turns out it’s this stew made with a ton of summer vegetables, which is great because everybody with a zucchini plant is pretty much offering their firstborn to anybody that will take some of the prolific squash off of their hands. I’ve been looking for ways to get more veggies in me anyway 1.
But my American-ness continues to haunt me! Without either a starch or a protein, ratatouille’s just… a side. Josh don’t do sides. 2 It needed more. I didn’t want to introduce anything too heavy, like pork or chicken thighs, so I figured fish was a good way to go. Catfish is cheap, and grows in mud rather than in oceans, so I figured that would be a good candidate for a light but hearty American Heartland-style ratatouille.I pulled out a Cook’s Illustrated from a few years back, which advises roasting the eggplant, tomatoes 3, onions, and garlic in the oven first, then adding the zucchini and bell pepper in later. The long-roasted vegetables turn into a flavorful, soupy mass, which makes up the broth of the stew. The zucchini and bell peppers just barely cook, so they retain a fresh taste and add some chunky texture.
This stew was just what I wanted. Hearty, full of flavor, but not greasy or heavy. Good stuff for a summer day.
WHAT I WOULD CHANGE
First, the flavorings. I used salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and fresh basil, plus some curry powder on the catfish. That was good, but I think the dish could have taken something much more intense. Say, Cajun spices. Next time I might try making it into a Cajun kind of stew with green bell peppers instead of red, plus some cayenne and paprika.
I would also make the cooking just a two-step process instead of three. This time around, I roasted the first vegetables, then added the second batch and cooked a bit longer, then added the catfish and baked a while longer. When I try this again, I’ll just add the second batch of vegetables, season to taste right then, then add the catfish and put it back in the oven, without a second cooking step just for the second batch of vegetables. The bell peppers and zucchini should still cook through just fine.
FOR THE NERDS
Ratatouille is super-seasonal eating. It uses up a ton of summer produce, right when gardens are starting to overflow. It makes a meal that is almost all vegetable matter, which is great, health-wise.
Catfish is an underused resource. Channel cat and blue cat, the most widely used kinds of catfish, are both native to the U.S. and very plentiful. They are most commonly fried, but they can be used in any recipe that calls for white-fleshed fish. They can have a slightly muddy flavor, but if they are paired with strong flavors (like Cajun seasoning!), this should be a non-issue.
But sustainable local cuisine is never gonna take off unless it’s delicious, right?I thought it was pretty damn good. But you can’t trust me, I’m just some dude from the internet.
You gotta make it yourself. Recipe and how-to video below.
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- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 eggplant, cut into large chunks
- 2 onions, cut into large chunks
- 1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
- 3 small zucchini, diced
- 3 red bell peppers, diced
- salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar to taste
- 1 lb catfish nuggets, dried with paper towels
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In a large dutch oven on the stovetop, heat the olive oil until shimmering.
- Add the eggplant, onions, and garlic to the dutch oven. Add a pinch of salt, then put the dutch oven (uncovered) into the preheated oven for 40 minutes.
- After the 40 minutes, take the dutch oven out and add the zucchini and bell peppers. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar to taste.
- Salt the catfish nuggets and lay them over the top of the vegetable mixture in the dutch oven.
- Put the dutch oven back into the oven for20 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.