Catfish has its day

Catfish has its day Chefs shake off snobbery and give the old fish its due

September 11, 2013 

Catfish tacos are affordable and delicious. JULIAN BRUNT/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD

To the uninformed the catfish has a less than humble reputation. Perhaps that rep came about when poor folks caught and ate mud cats from rivers and streams and their flesh tasted of the environment in which they were raised, but those days are long gone and chefs now give the clean, firm and tasty catfish its rightful due.

Some pretty serious snobbery comes out when the flavor and desirability of catfish is discussed. Serious chefs around the world love it as a mild, but firm fish that can take on many guises. It is similar to many white fish, like flounder and sole. More often than not in the South it is fried and it is excellent that way, but it can wear much more sophisticated garb. Sauté it in a little butter and top with jumbo lump crab, or thin slices of smoked ham and gruyere and run it under the boiler for a minute or two just to make it bubbly and hot. There really are few limitations, although it would not hold up in a long simmering stew.

Mississippi produces about fifty percent of the countries' catfish and that amounts to 350 million pounds annually. Many people think that Simmon's Catfish, raised in the Delta, is the very finest. But catfish are raised and eaten around the world and you might be surprised to know that the Mekong catfish from Vietnam is the largest. There are dozens of species that range in all sizes, even one that is so small it is commonly grown in home aquariums. But the channel and blue cats are the king in the kitchen and the variety of ways they can be cooked are almost endless.

Catfish is an economical and healthy food source. A pound is usually priced around $4 and can be purchases fresh at most seafood markets and there are generally about four filets per pound. A small serving contains no carbohydrates, only one hundred and fifty calories, four grams of fat and twenty six grams of protein. When fresh it should smell clean and not fishy at all and have a smooth texture. If it smells unpleasant at all or feels tacky do not purchase it.

Did you know that June twenty fifth is National Catfish Day?

CATFISH TACOS

Fish tacos came to us from California, who in turn took them from Baja California, where they are called tacos de pescado. Catfish makes for the perfect filling as they are firm and do well with a little spice, such as cayenne or Tony's.

1 pound catfish filets

8 yellow corn tortillas

1 cup flour

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

1-2 pinches cayenne

Black pepper

olive oil

1/2 cup mayo

1/3 cup chopped red onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese

Season the catfish liberally with Tony's, black pepper and cayenne, dust in the flour and fry in hot olive oil until well browned, 2-3 minutes on a side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Combine the mayo, onion, celery and bell pepper, taste and season as necessary. In an almost dry sauté pan warm the tortillas just until they start to take on a bit of color. Add half a filet to each tortilla, spoon on the mayo mixture, top with cheese and run under the broiler until melted. Please serve at once.

WHOLE FRIED CATFISH

4 whole catfish, cleaned and skinned

¾ cup yellow cornmeal (use Original Grit Girl if you can find it)

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Salt to taste

black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

oil for frying

Fill a fry pan or deep fryer half way with oil, never more than half way or you risk a serious fire. Pre-heat the oil to 350 f. and then combine 3/4 of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Season the catfish with the remaining salt, black pepper and cayenne, if you are a big Tony's fan you can leave out the salt and about half of the cayenne. Dredge the whole fish in the dry mixture, shake off the excess and fry 7-8 minutes. Serve immediately, as all fried foods quickly lose their flavor and texture. Top with tartar sauce recipe below.

Tartar sauce

1 cup diced white onion

1 cup dill pickle relish or chopped pickles of your choice

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped green chiles

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and chill before serving.

CATFISH CORDON BLEU

6 catfish filets

6 slices smoked ham

6 slices Swill cheese

1-2 whole eggs

2-3 tablespoons milk

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

salt and black pepper

toothpicks

oil for frying

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Break eggs into a bowl and add the milk, season and mix well. Place the Panko in another bowl. Place one slice of ham and one slice of cheese over each filet, roll and secure with a toothpick. Trim any excess ham or cheese. Place each roll in the milk and egg mixture and evenly cover, then toss in the Panko until well coated. Shake off the excess. Pour about 1/2 inch of oil in a pan large enough to hold all of the rolls, heat to 300 f and then fry the rolls, turning often until browned and cooked through. Serve with a simple butter and parsley sauce or the tartar sauce mentioned above.

If you prefer to bake this recipe pre-heat the oven to 350 f and bake for about 20 minutes.

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