Nicoise Salad – Cajun Style

Nicoise salad - awaiting the catfish

Nicoise salad is a famous French salad made with green beans, hard boiled eggs, potatoes and tuna. One day we wondered how it would taste with a Cajun twist, using blackened catfish in place of the tuna, and changing the flavours of the salad just a bit. Afterall, Cajuns are descendants of Acadians, who were early French settlers in Eastern Canada; their cuisine is a fusion of French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean flavours, so it seemed to us that a nicoise salad would lend itself perfectly to a little “Cajunization”. And it did. This remains one of our favourite meals for a hot summer’s evening – eaten on the patio with a glass of Perrier and lime…fantastique!

Warning – this is not for the faint-hearted. Blackening spice is extremely hot and even when used with moderation, can trigger a heart attack in the unsuspecting. If you don’t have a tolerance for spice, don’t ditch the recipe altogether; buy some off-the-shelf Cajun marinade for your fish and get a taste for the meal nonetheless. But if you do like spicy food, then you are in luck! Normally, blackened fish is cooked on a cast iron pan over extremely high heat on the bar b q. But we also like it cooked for a few minutes in foil, and then directly on the grill for another minute or two. If you don’t want to use a lot of oil, then the latter is recommended.

I’ve replaced the typical basil used in a nicoise salad with fresh tarragon. I absolutely love the mildly licoricey flavour of this herb when fresh. But if you really don’t like it, then by all means, use basil.

For the salad:

Baby romaine or other lettuce leaves

Fresh green beans (1 cup), julienned

2 cups halved baby red potatoes

½ cucumber, sliced

20 pitted kalamata olives (not canned!)

1 hard boiled egg

5 stalks of fresh tarragon

3-4 plum tomatoes, sliced into sixths, lengthwise

12 asparagus stalks, brushed lightly with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper

 

For the dressing:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 clove minced garlic

Generous spritz of lemon juice

1 tsp dijon mustard

Sald and pepper to taste

For the fish:

 4 filets of fresh catfish

Juice of ½ lemon

Blackening spice:

1 – 2 Tbsp white flour

1 tbsp garlic powder

1tbsp onion powder

2 tsp white paper (don’t skip this – it’s essential)

2 tsp cracked black pepper

2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

(combine all but the flour in a small container and shake)

  1. Boil the potatoes until tender, and steam the green beans. When both are done, allow to cool, or gently toss under cold water if you are pressed for time.
  2. Arrange the salad with lettuce on the bottom, and tarragon leaves mixed in, followed by beans and potatoes, then cucumber, tomatoes, hard boiled egg and olives
  3. Grill asparagus on a heated grill for only 2-3 minutes; be careful not to over cook
  4. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and set aside
  5. Spritz a lemon over your catfish filets and then turn the filets through the flour first, then the blackening spice, coating them evenly (you don’t need to use all the blackening spice – in fact, don’t use it all).
  6. Wrap filets in tin foil and place on barbecue for approximately 5 minutes. Un wrap them and grill them for another 2 or until fish flakes and is cooked through centre
  7. Add grilled asparagus and whole salon filets on places, and then add salad, spooning over the dressing

 Here’s a nice vegetarian alternative, if catfish is not your thing. Instead of using baby red potatoes, use large white baking potatoes. Slice them into potato wedges, toss them in 2 tbsp olive oil and then the blackening spices. Grill them on the barbecue or cook them on a cookie sheet in the oven until soft and tender. Serve them over the salad in lieu of the fish.

And now...put it all together

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