Catfish with Mark Franz’s Black Bean Sauce

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The first fish we cooked whole and served to the public at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill was viewed with great skepticism by myself (though I loved the idea) and the waiters (who were afraid the public would leave). Mark Franz, one of the chefs, prevailed and created this spectacular sauce, with the help of some favorite memories of Hong Kong, where we introduced the food of the Santa Fe Bar & Grill to the Mandarin Hotel in 1984. The first fish was a pike, and we later used catfish, French bream, and others. Only catfish needs skinning. The skin on the other fish becomes crisp and very tasty. The dish needs a good beer, and lots of it.

Ingredients

  • 4 whole catfish
  • 1 gallon peanut oil
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fish stock
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-ounce piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
  • ½ cup Chinese fermented black beans, soaked in water 1 hour and drained
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese chili paste
  • ½ cup tomato concasse
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Method

Gut and skin the catfish.

Heat the oil in a heavy casserole or large wok to 375°F. Season the cornstarch with the salt. Roll the fish in the cornstarch, shake off the excess, and set aside.

Put the fish stock, garlic, and ginger in a sauté pan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.

Put the fish in the hot oil, taking great care not to get burned in case the oil boils up and over. Cook for 8 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, add the black beans and chili paste to the stock mixture. Cook 1 minute, add the tomato, butter, and sesame oil. Stir to incorporate the butter and pour the sauce equally onto 4 warm plates.

Lift the fish out of the oil, drain for a second on paper towels, and put the fish on the sauce. Garnish each fish with parsley.

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