New Year’s Eve…out with the old, in with the new!
It’s that time of year when we evaluate priorities, make resolutions and vow to stay with them through at least the next 365 days.
That’s just what Jim and Karen Weir did back before the new Millennium. As Jim prepared to retire from his career as an airline pilot, he thought about the family home place in Central Alabama. It was an 1880s, Queen Anne farmhouse that had fallen into disrepair, but he and Karen craved family connection.
“Our main reason for moving here was establishing roots for our grandchildren,” Karen said. “I never had that, because my family moved a lot.” Plus, she really liked the countryside around Gastonburg, a Wilcox County hamlet right in the middle of Catfish Country!
So Jim, the pilot/Air Tran owner/plus part-time dentist, and Karen, the architectural designer, moved here from Miami in 2000, re-did the house and soon became active in local culture. That included membership in Arts Revive and Master Gardeners, work as a volunteer museum guide and adjusting taste buds to different cuisine.
The fish they previously cooked and ate came from the Caribbean. “We had our first catfish here in Alabama,” Karen noted. “We ate the typical catfish, hushpuppies, coleslaw thing, and since I’m a cook, I started using catfish in interesting recipes. My husband loves Italian, so I concocted recipes that normally use chicken in a simmered sauce with pasta.”
The result was Karen’s Catfish Mediterranean recipe. It’s similar to chicken cacciatore and quite tasty, especially the second day. She cuts the fish into chunks so the fish holds up well in the sauce. “Catfish is a very neutral fish. You can use it in almost anything, and almost any recipe where you use chicken, you can use catfish,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jim found an after-retirement job flying Bonnie Plant Farm jets to locations around the U.S., and Karen began painting and displaying her artwork. They own a small plane as well and use it to visit friends and relatives who live too far away for easy travel by highway. Karen also designed an antique farm tools display along Alabama Highway 5. So if you are ever down that road, look for the sign that says “Gastonburg.” The mule-driven farm implements are nearby.
Oh yes, one of Karen's favorite drives is by the catfish ponds on Highway 5 when the mist rises off the water in the morning or when the sunset glows upon it in the evening.
Here’s Karen’s recipe.
CATFISH MEDITERRANEANServes 6
3-4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
6 medium catfish fillets cut into 2" x 2" pieces
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 cleaned medium carrots, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
2 cans "Italian style" diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups consommé or water
1 cup button mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/2 cup black olives, chopped
Basil, oregano, lemon juice, kosher salt, ground pepper to taste
Fry diced bacon until crisp. Remove onto paper towels. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon grease, and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook onion, garlic, carrots, celery and ground pepper until soft. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, consommé (or water) and stir well. Add catfish pieces and simmer gently until done (until fish flakes) and sauce slightly thickens. Add olives, mushrooms and seasonings, and simmer for several more minutes. Taste to correct seasoning. Add crispy bacon last.
Serve over angel hair pasta with large salad and crusty bread (and a glass of wine?)
(Note) This is just as good over rice, and we also liked it on the second day. I did not use mushrooms, so my photo won’t look exactly like Karen’s dish.
PHOTO: Catfish Mediterranean