July 19, 2021
One of my favorite eating places in North America is a comfortable hole-in-the-wall restaurant called the Oyster Bar in Little Rock, Arkansas, not far from our state capitol.
Opened in 1975 in a building that once housed a neighborhood grocery store, it’s a place that’s long been legendary for serving some of the state’s best seafood dishes, including, of course, fresh oysters on the half shell, great gumbo and etouffee, po’ boys to die for and much more.
The favorite menu item for many longtime patrons, including yours truly, is an Oyster Bar original called “Cat-touffee.” See the play on words?
Served on top of a big fish-shaped platter, this crispy, creamy dish consists of homemade shrimp etouffee over rice, with deep-fried catfish fillets on top. It’s served with the Oyster Bar’s made-fresh-daily French bread, and a single order is usually enough you’ll be calling for a to-go box so you can take some leftovers home for the next day’s lunch.
Years ago, I tried to talk the chef into sharing his recipe for Cat-touffee, especially the way he makes his delicious, creamy shrimp etouffee. He kindly declined, as I expected he might, so I worked out a method of preparation myself.
It’s not quite the same as the Oyster Bar original. I prefer to use crawfish etouffee instead of shrimp if the former is available, simply because I like crawfish better than shrimp. The catfish fillets used to top the dish are prepared using a special Louisiana recipe that gives them some extra twang.
Actually, you get three recipes in one: crawfish etouffee, marinated fried catfish and Cat-touffee. Each is wonderfully scrumptious in its own right, and you and your dinner guests are sure to love them if you enjoy Cajun cuisine as much as I do.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour + marinating time
Crawfish Etouffee Recipe
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 1 cup chopped green pepper
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound peeled crawfish tails
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Cooked rice
- Melt butter in a large heavy pot. Add flour, and stir over medium-low heat until roux is caramel-colored (20 to 30 minutes). Stir constantly.
- Add onion, green pepper, celery and garlic. Cook until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer 20 minutes. Serve over cooked rice.
Marinated Fried Catfish Recipe
This recipe can be used with any type of catfish and will feed a dozen or more people at your next home fish fry. The hot sauce/milk marinade adds a nice piquant flavor to the catfish without making it spicy hot.
- 6 pounds catfish steaks and/or fillets (or other white fleshed fish)
- 3 (3-ounce) bottles Louisiana hot sauce
- 12 cups milk
- 3 cups yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- Peanut oil
- Marinate catfish 1 to 2 hours in a mixture of hot sauce and milk. Remove fish and drain.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large plastic bag. Add the fish a little at a time and shake to coat.
- Cook the fish in 2 inches of peanut oil in a deep fryer heated to 365 degrees. Fry until the thickest part of the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining fish. Serves 12-15.
- Cooked rice
- Crawfish or shrimp etouffee
- Marinated fried catfish
- Place a layer of rice on a plate or inside a shallow dish.
- Cover with etouffee.
- Top with fried catfish.
- Serve hot.