The golden hued pescado amarillo, or yellow catfish, is one of the most common fish found in the Lower Paraná River in Northeast Argentina. In the city of Paraná, street food stalls increase in number as you crawl closer to the river; vendors serve yellow catfish either cooked over a wood-burning grill or lightly floured and fried to be enjoyed with a cold lager-style cerveza. Here Argentine cook Jorgelina Mandarina marries the best of both worlds, using a pan to cook the butterflied fish over a hot grill, giving the dish a crispy pan sear and a divine smoky flavor, all tied together with her non-traditionalist use of fresh curry leaves and tangy caramelized citrus.
Cooking time can vary based on distance from coals and insulation from wind. Argentine grills, such as those made by Ñuke, are often built with height adjustable grates and insulated side walls. If yellow catfish is not available to you, any other catfish of similar size will work well using this preparation.
Featured in: “The Pescatarian Asado: Reframing Argentina’s Native Bounty.”
Grilled Catfish with Chimichurri
For her grilled catfish recipe, Argentine cook Jorgelina Mandarina marries the best of two cooking techniques, slowly searing pescado amarillo in olive oil over a hot wood fire to crisp the skin while also infusing the flesh with intense smoky flavor.
Yield: serves 4
For the fish:
- One 2½ –3 lb. whole catfish, such as pescado amarillo, butterflied, head and spine removed
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 key limes (or substitute 1 small lime plus 2 limes) sliced into ¼-in. rings
- 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
For the chimichurri:
- 1 medium mandarin
- ½ cups fresh Italian parsley
- ½ cups fresh oregano
- ¼ cups fresh curry leaves
- ¼ cups fresh rosemary
- ¼ cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
- Preheat a grill to cook over medium-high heat.
- Grill the fish:Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper. Arrange the fish skin-side-down and evenly distribute the lemon slices over the flesh. Set a large enamel or iron baking dish directly atop the hot coals (or place it on a grate positioned over a gas flame) and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the fish skin-side-down and sear until the skin has developed a thin crust, 7–8 minutes. If cooking over coals, move the tray up to the grill rack at this stage and continue cooking, occasionally basting the fish with the hot oil and any accumulated drippings until a fork can pierce the meat without any resistance, 20–25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the chimichurri: , As the fish cooks, place the mandarin on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until partially charred all over, 8–9 minutes. Remove from the grill and set aside.
- Coarsely chop the parsley, oregano, curry leaves, and rosemary. Using a large mortar and pestle, grind the salt, then add 2 tablespoons of the accumulated drippings from the fish pan along with the olive oil. Add the herbs and grind everything together to a coarse paste. Squeeze the reserved mandarin into the mortar and continue grinding to make a chunky salsa.
- Using a wide spatula, carefully flip the fish over and continue cooking until the flesh is lightly seared, 2–3 minutes. Remove the pan from the grill, transfer the fish to a platter skin-side-down, and brush generously with the reserved chimichurri. Serve hot or warm, with additional chimichurri on the side.