Week 27, Meal 3: No salt. No pepper. All flavor!

Ever since I started cooking, I’ve been told that salt and pepper are the building blocks of flavor. This is especially true for me, considering much of the food is simply seasoned with just salt and pepper, and then thrown on the grill.

But for the first time all blog long, we’re doing a recipe that has no salt (soy and fish sauces yes, but no added salt) and no pepper.  It may sound naive, but I was really surprised at how much flavor can be built without those two ingredients.

This also marks the first time we’re using catfish on the blog, and it’s definitely the first time I’ve had catfish that wasn’t battered and fried. On the whole, it’s a pretty delicious, mild fish.

A delicious fish, with a Thai twist. Here’s Week 27, Meal 3: Grilled catfish with Thai tamarind-chile sauce over cabbage slaw.

The Recipe (Yield: 2 servings)

Fish and marinade
2 6 oz. catfish filets, trimmed with any bones removed
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 shallot, minced
1 T vegetable oil
1 T fish sauce
1/2 stalk lemongrass, outer leaves removed, inside tender white part sliced thin
1 serrano chile, seeds removed, minced
Cooking spray, as needed

Tamarind-chile sauce
2 limes, juiced
2 T fish sauce
1 t tamarind paste
1/2 stalk lemongrass, outer leaves removed, inside tender white part sliced thin
1 t brown sugar
1 t sriracha
1 T chopped cilantro
1 T chopped thai basil, (regular basil works, but thai is better)
1 serrano chile, seeds removed, small diced
1 fresno chile, seeds removed, small diced

Cabbage slaw
1/2 small head green cabbage, sliced thin
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 1/2 t chopped thai basil
1 1/2 t chopped cilantro
2 limes, juiced
1 T rice vinegar
1 T soy sauce
1 T fish sauce
1 1/2 t sriracha
1 clove garlic

Knock out the marinade first. In a small bowl stir together garlic, shallot, vegetable oil, fish sauce and serrano chile. Place in a plastic bag or container and add the catfish filets. Marinate for 30-45 minutes.

Next, the slaw. In a medium bowl mix together the green cabbage, Thai basil, cilantro and carrots. Ten minutes before serving dress the slaw with the dressing made of limes, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and sriracha.

For the tamarind-chile sauce, mix together lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind, lemongrass, brown sugar and sriracha in a Magic Bullet or blender until smooth.  Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the cilantro, Thai basil and serrano and Fresno peppers. Reserve.

Preheat your grill to high. When the fish is done marinating, remove the filets from the marinade and scrape off any larger chunks from the marinade (something I failed to do, lol). Spray the grill with cooking spray and grill the fish for 2-3 minutes per side until cooked through. Remove from the grill and reserve.

To plate: Place a thin layer of slaw down on the bottom of the plate. Place the fish down on the slaw and top generously with tamarind-chile sauce.

This dish is so many things at once. It’s tangy, sweet, spicy, succulent, fresh and so much more. I thought it would be a lot of work to cook, considering the number of components and ingredients involved, but it’s just a lot of knife work up front. From there you’re mostly combining ingredients or taking a couple of minutes on the grill. All said and done, if you like Asian flavors, enjoy eating fish, and play nice with a little bit of heat, here’s one for you.

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