100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 20, Fried Catfish and Cajun Crawfish at The Cajun Stop
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Kevin Bailey for The Crawfish Stop What's better than crawfish or catfish? Both, together.
Earlier in the week, I interviewed bartender and Louisiana native Sheridan Fay about Mardi Gras drinks and her favorite traditions. She told me that though she wouldn't be able to get home for the celebrations this year, she would mark the day by indulging at The Cajun Stop.
I mentioned the owner of The Cajun Stop in the article, writing her name as Lisa "Carney."
The next day I got a special delivery from The Cajun Stop, along with a business card with the name circled: Lisa Carnley.
Carnley, not Carney, as in the creepy people who work carnivals.
I was embarrassed, and I immediately fixed the misspelling, but fortunately CarnLey had a great sense of humor about the whole thing. She wanted to make sure I never misspelled her name again, so she sent me something to help me remember. She sent over her delicious fried catfish topped with a Cajun crawfish tail cream sauce, hoping that it would have an impact on my memory.
Oh, has it ever.
I've had the remainder of my 100 favorite dishes planned out for some time now, but as soon as I tasted Carnley's dish -- usually a Friday special -- I knew it had to be included.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg The crawfish tails gleam like jewels in the creamy sauce.
First, the catfish. It's a good-size fillet that's been lightly breaded in a thin but crunchy coating that's simple enough to enhance the flavor of the catfish while not taking away from the delicate seafood. Somehow, even under a thick blanket of cream sauce, it manages to stay fairly crisp all the way to the last bite.
The crawfish tail cream sauce really is the pièce de résistance in the dish, though. It's similar to an étouffée in that it also seems to make use of the holy trinity, a.k.a. mirepoix with onions, celery and bell peppers, as well as similar Cajun spices to get your heart rate up and your forehead perspiring. Unlike étouffée, there's a heavy dose of cream in this crawfish sauce, making it a little more rich and a little less ruddy than its Cajun cousin.
And then, of course, there are the crawfish tails, too numerous to count, dotting the plate with flecks of scarlet here and there. Crawfish season is finally in full swing, and the mudbugs Carnley is getting in at The Cajun Stop are about as big as I've ever seen them. The tails are juicy and flavorful and add a great salty shellfish bite to the dish.
The catfish and crawfish are served over a bed of white rice, which is necessary to quell the heat a bit after a few good bites. Of course, had I been eating the dish at the restaurant, I would have paired it with a daiquiri, but that sort of thing doesn't usually go over well in the office.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.