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Goujons are breaded and gently fried strips of fish fillet commonly served as appetizers, or paired with vegetables as a light main course. This type of fish preparation is traditionally French, but is also very popular in Cajun-influenced areas of Louisiana, a southern U.S. state. In many Cajun dialects, the word “goujon” is a synonym for catfish, the type of fish most commonly eaten — and thus used in goujon dishes — in this region.
French cooks typically make goujons with fresh-caught sole. The fillets are sliced lengthwise into narrow strips, which are then wetted with either butter or egg yolk, then dipped into breadcrumbs seasoned with salt or pepper. Most cooks allow the strips to rest for a few moments — sometimes up to an hour — before frying them quickly in oil.
Goujons prepared in the French fashion are typically served with a savory sauce, Dijon or dill in most cases, that can be either drizzled over the top or set to the side as a dip. Cornichons, which are small pickled gherkins, usually accompany the dish.
Differences in Cajun Preparations
French settlers in Louisiana brought with them many French traditions, both culinary and cultural, but had a tendency to make their own adaptations and adjustments. The hybrid culture that resulted is usually referred to as Cajun. Cajun cooks commonly make goujons, but the preparation is slightly different.
A Cajun goujon is usually made with catfish, for one thing, rather than the more traditional sole. Catfish is a commonly caught fish in Louisiana’s coastal waters. The narrow filleting technique is the same, but the breading in Cajun versions is often very spicy, often incorporating red pepper flakes or chili oil.
Most Cajun iterations are served with other fried foods or seafood, and are usually accompanied by potato “wedges,” which are thick-sliced potatoes baked or fried just to the point of crispiness. Mayonnaise, ketchup, and hot sauce are usually provided as dips.
Distinctions Between Goujons, Fish and Chips, and Fish Sticks
Goujons are frequently compared to fish and chips and fish stick preparations, though the three are different in a number of important respects. In most fish and chip preparations, entire fish fillets are battered — not breaded — which makes them more properly fritters.
Fish sticks usually involve breading, but the fish inside is often little more than sludge. Commercial fish manufacturers typically make fish sticks by mashing together excess trimmings and parts left over from whole fillets and other cuts. Rather than discard these scraps, they are combined into stick-like shapes, breaded, and fried or baked.
A number of cooks, both in and outside of France, have applied the goujon technique to slices of chicken fillet, creating a dish known as “chicken goujon.” This dish is prepared exactly as it would be with fish, and the condiments and common side dishes are usually the same.
Other Modifications and Variations
Cooks have taken many liberties with goujon preparations over the years. One of the most common variations — aside from changing the central meat — concerns the manner of cooking. In order to make the dish lower in fat, many cooks elect to bake the fish or chicken strips, rather than deep-frying them. Skillet frying with a bit of olive oil is also common.
The breading is another place for innovation. Many cooks augment their breadcrumbs with a variety of spices, herbs, or grated cheeses. Rougher breading like panko can also be used to lend a different texture to the goujon.