Courtesy Vishwesh Bhatt, executive chef, Snackbar, Oxford, MS
With 100,000 acres of ponds to explore, Mississippi is the catfish capital of the U.S., and it’s a central ingredient of the state’s cuisine. Here, Vishwesh Bhatt plays on a classic preparation of catfish and collards by employing an Indian-inspired herb paste and an en papillote cooking technique. Bhatt serves this dish with grits seasoned with black pepper and cardamom.
About Vishwesh Bhatt
Bhatt, 52, came to the U.S. in his late teens, first to Texas, then Kentucky, Florida and, finally, Mississippi. His menu at Snackbar displays deep Mississippi roots, with dishes like pecan-crusted redfish with squash-andouille risotto. But he often adds Indian touches with ingredients used in both cultures, such as okra, millet and black-eyed peas. “There’s a deep respect in the South for the idea that food and drink are about sharing,” says Bhatt. “As new Southerners add their influences and ideas, the cuisine continues to grow, while still maintaining its respect for locality.”
- 8 large collard leaves
- 4 6-ounce catfish fillets Salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 6 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 1 2-inch piece ginger, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 serrano chile
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
- 2/3 cup mint leaves
- 1/3 cup roasted peanuts
- 1½ teaspoons toasted cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon toasted fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons toasted coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1½ teaspoons brown sugar
- Chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts and thin-sliced jalapeño (for garnish)
Heat oven to 400˚F.
Blanch collard leaves in salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and shock in ice water. Lay leaves on towels to dry.
Sprinkle both sides of catfish lightly with salt, turmeric and 3 tablespoons lime juice. Refrigerate for 20–30 minutes. Add remaining lime juice, 2 tablespoons peanut oil and all other ingredients (except garnishes) to food processor. Blend to a smooth paste. Add salt, to taste.
Lay two collard greens side by side, just overlapping. Place 1 catfish fillet in center, and spread 2 tablespoons herb paste on top. Carefully fold leaves around fish to create secure package. Turn over so folded side faces down. Repeat with remaining catfish.
Heat remaining peanut oil in ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Place fish packets in skillet, folded side down. Sear about 2 minutes per side. Cover pan, and cook in oven for 12 minutes.
Gently transfer to serving platter or individual plates. Add garnish. Serves 4.
“We love the Hugel 2014 Classic Riesling with this dish,” says Drew Stevens, beverage director at Snackbar. “This flinty [Alsace] white has just the right amount of sweetness to balance out the warm ginger of the dish, and is a perfect pair for the earthy catfish.”