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Rich and savory with butter and spices, the first bite of my Blackened Catfish with Lemon Rosemary Sauce will shift your taste buds into overdrive. The browned butter develops an almost nutty taste that balances with the herbs and spices infused with white wine. And if you follow our step-by-step video in this story, it’s easy.

This recipe comes from my new cookbook, Fresh From Louisiana: The Soul of Cajun and Creole Home Cooking debuting in mid-November 2020. Published by Harvard Common Press, this is my second in a series of books focused on the food of Louisiana.

This book goes even deeper into the culture and peels back the layers of culinary mystery and history that make our cuisine so unique. And it focuses on seasonal fresh ingredients that are the cornerstone of Louisiana cooking.

An essential fresh ingredient in this recipe is top quality catfish. And to ensure I get the best, I go wild–wild-caught catfish, to be specific. There is a difference in how your catfish are brought to market, and to fully understand why, we made a trip to the source: Butch Smith at Fresh Water Seafood in Loreauville, LA. Butch is referred to as the “King of Catfish” in these parts, and after meeting him, I can understand why.

photo of catfish filets on cutting board

Wild-caught catfish fillets. (Photo credit: George Graham)

According to Butch, wild-caught (think: free-range) catfish are caught in hoop nets in the freshwater lakes and rivers of Louisiana, whereas pond-raised catfish are a product of an aquaculture industry that mass-produces the fish and floods the market with an inferior product. The taste and texture of wild catfish is cleaner, sweeter, and holds up to various cooking techniques like grilling or blackening. It’s just a better product.

At Fresh Water Seafood, a catch of over 8000 pounds on a good day is cut, gutted, skinned, and filleted by a highly skilled crew at his USDA-certified plant. It’s big business, and Butch is the biggest. His company is the largest wild catfish processor in the state, serving a growing wholesale, restaurant, and retail consumer market. If you want to learn more, take a look at our video where Roxanne, Lo, and I went behind the scenes at Fresh Water Seafood’s processing plant and talked to fillet-master Colby Thibodeaux in the room where it happens.

photo of Butch Smith of Freshwater Seafood

The “King of Catfish” at his Fresh Water Seafood operation in Loreauville. (Photo credit: George Graham)

Time to blacken. The culinary technique of blackening is one of those mysterious recipes that has become synonymous with Louisiana cooking. It is one of my favorite methods for cooking fish of any kind–especially catfish. With the deep, dark flavor of pungent spices that seal in the moist flesh of wild-caught catfish, it’s cloaked in a lemony butter sauce that zings with taste. I love it so.

catfish coated with spices for blackening

Coat with the spice rub to get the perfect char for a properly blackened catfish. (Photo credit: George Graham)


blackened catfish filet in skillet

Blackened catfish cooked outdoors in a cast-iron skillet is the only way to go. (Photo credit: George Graham)

If you want to source Fresh Water Seafood’s wild-caught catfish, the folks at Louisiana Direct Seafood have made it easy. Now you can order Vermilion Bay Sweet catfish online at the Louisiana Direct Seafood SHOP.

George Graham holding tray of VBS catfish on ice

Wild-caught catfish is available for shipping nationwide on the Louisiana Direct Seafood website. (photo credit: Caleb Dunlap)

Flash frozen and vacuum-packed, Louisiana wild-caught catfish fillets are available in approximately one-pound packs. Buy your Louisiana wild-caught catfish direct from the fisherman or have it shipped directly to you; either way, you will be amazed at the quality difference that wild catfish will bring to your table.

This Boat-To-Table series of stories, recipes, and information about our seafood industry was originally published by George Graham on Acadiana Table, in support of Louisiana Direct Seafood, a free program of Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU Ag Center.

You MUST cook this dish outdoors on a gas grill or outdoor burner.
Recipe by: George Graham –
Serves: 4
Blackening Spice
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ cup melted unsalted butter
  • 4 large (6 to 8 ounces each) catfish fillets, preferably wild-caught
  • 8 (1 tablespoon each) pats of unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 8 lemon slices
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Blackening Spice
  1. Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and blend. Pour into an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 6 months.
  1. On an outdoor gas grill or propane (or butane) burner, preheat a seasoned cast-iron skillet until very hot (this will take about 10 minutes).
  2. Brush both sides of the fillets with melted butter and coat with blackening seasoning.
  3. Add 2 pats of butter to the skillet and let melt. Using a large spatula, add a catfish fillet to the hot skillet and let cook on the first side for 1 minute (or a bit longer if your fillet is thicker) without moving. Gently turn the fish over and cook on the other side until done, about 1 minute, and remove to a platter to keep warm. Wipe the skillet clean and repeat until all the fish is cooked.
  4. Lower the heat on the skillet and add the wine, lemon juice, and fresh rosemary along with the lemon slices. Bring to a simmer and reduce the wine by half, about 5 minutes.
  5. For serving, add a blackened catfish fillet to a plate and spoon over the sauce along with 2 of the lemon slices. Garnish with a fresh rosemary sprig.
This spice recipe has moderate heat; if you like it hotter then add more cayenne. Look for Worcestershire powder or buy it online at my favorite spice store My Spice Sage here. Or for convenience, feel free to use your favorite store-bought Cajun/Creole spice rub. When I say “very hot” skillet, I mean screaming, scorching, searing hot skillet. I use catfish, but any flaky, white boneless fish fillets (redfish, flounder, trout, etc) will work deliciously. The fish fillets should be uniform in thickness and not too thick; the thickness will dictate how long it will take to cook; the fish will flake easily when done. Use the largest cast-iron skillet you have and you should be able to cook more than one fillet at a time. A well-seasoned skillet will prevent sticking, but once the fish hits the iron, do not move it around, or it may break up. In between cooking each fillet, be sure to use a spatula to scrape up any bits and pieces, and wipe the skillet clean so that it doesn’t burn.
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