Grilled Catfish with Barely Cooked Tomatoes

Grilled Catfish with Barely Cooked Tomatoes

This dish captures the essence of picking a ripe tomato off the plant and eating it under the blazing-hot sun of the South. That tomato is probably pushing 100°F during the hottest part of the day—almost starting to cook. To translate the experience to the plate, I peel the tomatoes, dice them, and marinate them in a little bit of fish sauce for a couple of hours before warming them in a pan until they hit that internal temperature of 100°F. The result is a tomato that is at the intersection of raw and cooked.

Adding benne seeds to the plate brings it into the fold of classic Gullah Geechee food traditions. You could swap the catfish for some steamed Carolina Gold rice for an incredible vegetarian dinner.


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Excerpted from South by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards.


Grilled Catfish with Barely Cooked Tomatoes

Recipe Notes

  • Yield: Serves 4


For the Barely Cooked Tomatoes

For the Catfish

  • 1 4 5- to 7-ounce skinless farm-raised catfish fillets, about ½ inch thick
  • 1 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 1 tablespoon benne oil
  • 2 teaspoons Anson Mills Antebellum Benne Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Recipe Steps

1: For the tomatoes: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Make an ice bath with equal parts ice and water in a large bowl. Working in batches, lightly score the skin on the bottom of each tomato with an X and submerge the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove and submerge them in the ice bath to cool; do not leave them in there for longer than 5 minutes. Drain, then peel, halve, and seed the tomatoes and cut them into medium dice.

2: Combine the diced tomatoes, fish sauce, and vinegar in a medium nonreactive saucepan, cover, and set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

3: For the catfish: Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill, removing the grill rack and distributing the hot coals in an even layer in the bottom of the grill. Place the grill rack as close to the coals as possible.

4: Meanwhile, reheat the tomatoes over low heat until they are just warmed through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

5: Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the catfish fillets with canola oil on both sides and season liberally with salt and white pepper. Grill the fillets skinned side up until lightly charred and opaque, about 2 minutes. Turn the fillets over and grill them for 2 minutes more.

6: To serve: Arrange the catfish fillets on four warm plates. Spoon the tomatoes over the fillets, drizzle with the benne oil, and sprinkle with the benne seeds and chopped parsley.

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Southern food is one of the most beloved and delicious cuisines in America. And who better to give us the key elements of Southern cuisine than Sean Brock, the award-winning chef and Southern-food crusader.

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