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He Cooks Championship Catfish : Victor Gielisse's Menu Not Like Southern Fried Dish

May 28, 1987|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

America's Best Seafood Chef of 1987 won that title with a menu that featured farm-raised catfish.

Victor A. L. Gielisse, chef/owner of Actuelle restaurant in Dallas, was the only finalist to prepare a catfish dish in the first American Seafood Challenge, held in Charleston, S.C. (Second-place winner Elka Gilmore of Camelions in Santa Monica presented roast skate wings with red wine butter, accompanied by roasted new potatoes and asparagus.)

Gielisse's dish bore no resemblance to traditional Southern fried catfish, although he serves that dish at his restaurant. For the contest, he seasoned catfish fillets with fresh ginger, shallots, garlic, Worcestershire and lemon juice and browned them in sesame oil. As accompaniments, he chose gingered black beans, asparagus with sesame seeds, roasted Red Pepper Cream and Tomatillo Relish. And he garnished the plate with a puff paste anchor.

Variety of Techniques

The remaining dishes in Gielisse's four-course championship menu, which was designed to show a variety of cooking techniques as well as to accent seafood, were ocean sea scallop and mussel soup, Texas shrimp mousseline and fresh lemon torte.

Gielisse was one of 26 professional chefs who became eligible for the national contest by winning a state competition. Entrants were narrowed to 10 finalists and then to the winner by judges from the American Culinary Federation and U.S. Culinary Olympic Committee. Gielisse's prizes were a silver cup, $2,000 and a gold medal from the federation.

Contest sponsors included food manufacturers and purveyors and professional associations related to food, among them seafood development and marketing groups, an organization of South Carolina chefs and the Greater Charleston Restaurant Assn.

Finalists selected ingredients for their entries from a group of more than 35 products assembled by the Seafood Challenge Committee. Gielisse chose catfish supplied by Crystal Creek Farms of Sunflower, Miss., a contest sponsor.

Both taste and practicality influenced his selection. "It's delicate, a fantastic fish, and it holds up on standing. I thought it was original, too," Gielisse said. Here is his recipe.


1 tablespoon chopped shallots

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground fresh ginger root

4 (5-ounce) catfish fillets

1/4 teaspoon salt

Dash black pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce


2 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

Gingered Black Beans

Sesame Asparagus

Red Pepper Cream

Tomatillo Relish

Rub shallots, garlic and ginger into catfish fillets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then coat with lemon juice and Worcestershire. Lightly but completely dust fillets with flour.

Heat sesame oil in 10-inch skillet. Add catfish fillets and saute until browned on each side, then place in 375-degree oven 3 minutes.

Place 1 fillet on each dinner plate. Add serving of Gingered Black Beans. Place spoonful of Red Pepper Cream and small amount of Tomatillo Relish separately on plate. Makes 4 servings.

Gingered Black Beans

1 cup dried black beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped shallots

1 tablespoon diced hickory flavored bacon

1/2 teaspoon ground fresh ginger root

1 1/2 tablespoons diced sweet red pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons diced sweet yellow pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

Salt, pepper

Sort and wash beans, cover with cold water and soak 1 1/2 hours. Drain. Cover with hot water and bring to boil. Cover beans loosely and simmer until tender but still firm, about 2 1/2 hours, adding hot water, if needed, to keep beans covered. Drain beans in colander and rinse.

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add garlic, shallots, bacon and ginger and saute until bacon is cooked. Add peppers and cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add beans and simmer 5 minutes, swirling pan to mix with seasonings and cook evenly.

Sesame Asparagus

1 pound asparagus

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

Salt, pepper

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Snap off tough ends of asparagus and wash. Blanch in large pot of boiling salted water 5 minutes. Drain asparagus and plunge immediately into ice water bath. Let stand 1 minute. Drain. Cut each stalk in half on diagonal.

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add asparagus. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Saute just long enough to blend flavors.

Red Pepper Cream

5 large sweet red peppers

Unsalted butter

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chopped shallot

1 small clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 1/2 tablespoons white wine

1 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream

Salt, pepper

Place peppers in single layer on baking sheet and brush with softened butter. Broil until blistered on all sides. Remove from broiler. Cover peppers on baking sheet with large sheet plastic wrap. Allow to steam 5 minutes, then peel. Puree peppers in food processor or blender.

Heat olive oil in saucepan. Add shallot and cook until softened but not browned. Add wine vinegar, wine and cream. Bring to rapid boil. Add red pepper puree and simmer 5 minutes. Turn mixture into food processor or blender. Process with pulsing motion 10 to 15 seconds. Strain through fine sieve. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to boil again and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 3 tablespoons unsalted butter. Keep warm until needed.

Tomatillo Relish

3 tomatillos

1 teaspoon butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon Cognac

Salt, pepper

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and wash well. Cut in halves. Remove and discard seeds. Chop tomatillos.

Melt butter in skillet. Add garlic and shallots and cook until glossy. Add tomatillos and tomatoes and saute 5 minutes. Add tarragon, Cognac and season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer 8 minutes over low heat.

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