Granma Ester’s Catfish Stew
Prep vegetables and herbs by chopping onion and/or onion alternatives. Pull rosemary, sage, and dogfennel leaves off their stems and chop. Crush any herb pods to increase flavors.
Add cornmeal to a mixing bowl. Add egg. Gradually add approximately 1 cup water (or fish stock if available) to the corn meal while mixing with hands, adding just enough liquid for the mixture to come together into a dough. (If dough sticks to hands, add more cornmeal until the dough stops sticking. If dough breaks apart, add more liquid until the dough reaches a texture that is bendable yet keeps its shape.) Add a pinch of the herb mixture, salt, and pepper to the dough and evenly incorporate.
Use hands to roll the dough into 1 1⁄2 inch balls. Use palms to press the dough balls into round dumpling disks approximately 2 inches in diameter and 1⁄2 inch thick. Set dumplings aside. (Tip: Refrigerate dumplings for up to an hour to firm up)
Wash catfish fillets with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and black pepper.
Add lard to a medium-high heated skillet. Add catfish
fillets to hot skillet, briefly searing on both sides before removing the seared fillets from the heat. Option to add a small amount of water to the skillet to simultaneously steam the fillets.
Add lard to a dutch oven pot (ideally cast iron) or a large saucepan and heat over medium heat. Once the lard is hot, add a single layer of seared catfish fillets to the pot, then a layer of herbs, followed by a layer of onions, followed by a layer of cornbread dumpling disks. Continue this layering until all of the catfish, dumpling disks, herbs, and onions have been added to the pot.
Pour remaining stock over the ingredients layered in the pot until the fish is fully coated. Cover pot.
Continue to cook until the stew is done. The stew is done when the dumplings have become firm, the onions translucent, and the fish is breaking down.If cooking on a stovetop, turn up heat to medium-high and bring stew just to boiling. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes until all ingredients are heated through. Check stew often, stirring and adding more liquid as needed.If cooking on an indirect heat source (such as a fire or wood heater), place the pot on the heat source and continue to cook for 3 to 5 hours depending on the heat source. Check stew often, stirring and adding more liquid as needed.
- Allow stew to rest covered for 10 minutes (or up to 45 minutes if using cast iron) without heat before serving.
*Use any freshwater fish if catfish is
**Use 2 quarts of vegetable stock if fish stock is unavailable.
***Use 2 cups of any chopped wild, farmed, or foraged onion or 2 Tbsp onion powder if fresh or frozen onions are unavailable.
†Use mix of different types of cornmeal as desired: yellow, white, blue.
††Use any additional or alternative available foraged herbs, such as chicory or poor man’s pepper.
†††Use 1 tsp dried sage if fresh sage is unavailable.
‡Use 1 tsp dried rosemary if fresh rosemary is unavailable.
‡‡Use Butter, Salted or Oil, Vegetable if lard is unavailable.