It’s spring and you’re camping with a fishing buddy beside a slow delta river. After a night running trotlines, you have several eating-size catfish in your cooler. Some are ready to fry.
The aroma of hot peanut oil rises from a black-iron pot where spoonfuls of hushpuppy batter are cooking to a golden-brown. Hot fried potatoes, slices of Vidalia onion and a bowl of coleslaw beckon from a makeshift table by the campfire. A cold drink takes the edge off the heat as you dredge catfish fillets in cornmeal and drop them with a sizzle into the cooker.
If you’re a Southerner, such thoughts probably make your mouth water. Fried catfish is the cornerstone of Dixie cuisine, and the region’s anglers know that eating catfish can be just as much fun as catching them. If you’re from other parts of the country … well, you ought to try catfish if you haven’t. They’re delicious.
For some folks, frying is the only way to cook a cat. There’s simply no tastier method of preparation, so why bother with anything else? Case closed.
Truth is, if you savor the flavor of fried catfish, you’ll probably also enjoy a variety of other terrific dishes in which catfish is the key ingredient. Catfish has wonderful adaptability and complements any cooking technique. Serve it grilled, baked, sautéed, blackened, poached or combined with other foods for casseroles and chowders. You’re limited only by your imagination.
The biggest mistake made by many catfish cooks is overcooking. Catfish is naturally tender and cooks quickly. It’s done when it flakes easily with a fork. If you wait for it to float in hot oil, you’ve probably cooked away most of the natural moisture that makes catfish so succulent, and destroyed much of its unique flavor in the process. When deep-frying, heat the oil to 365 to 370 degrees—no hotter. The old “throw a match in the oil and wait till it lights” trick rarely results in the proper frying temperature. Use a cooking thermometer to get it right, or a deep-fryer that can be set at the correct heat.
The following recipes provide several new ways to add the delectable flavor of catfish to your menus.
- 2 pounds catfish fillets
- 1 cup melted butter or margarine
- 2 limes
- Lemon-pepper spice
- Chopped fresh chives for garnish
1. Pour the hot melted butter in a large bowl, and dip each fish fillet. Transfer the fish to a rectangular pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Squeeze one half lime over each piece of fish, and season to taste with lemon-pepper spice.
2. Place under a preheated broiler and cook six inches from the flame for three to four minutes or until the thickest part of each fillet flakes easily with a fork. Garnish with chives if desired, and serve immediately while the fish is still piping hot.
Scalloped Catfish Au Gratin
- 2 pounds catfish fillets, cut in small squares
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1/4 cup minced green pepper
- 1/4 cup minced red pepper
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup grated Colby cheese
- 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add fish cubes with minced pepper, onion, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes.
2. Shake half-and-half and flour together in a jar until well blended. Add Worcestershire sauce, and pour into the pan with the fish. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
3. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Mix cheese and bread crumbs, and sprinkle over top. Cook under the oven broiler until lightly browned.
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 pound catfish fillets, cooked, flaked
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Dash of hot pepper sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup Ritz cracker crumbs
- 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1. Sauté onions and celery in the oil until tender. Transfer to a bowl, and mix with fish and all other ingredients except the cracker crumbs.
2. Form into 6 to 8 patties, and dredge in cracker crumbs. Brown in a skillet with hot butter or margarine.
Serves 6 to 8.
- 1 1/2 pounds catfish fillets
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Combine Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, paprika and pepper, and pour over catfish fillets placed in a single layer in a large baking dish. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
2. Transfer catfish to a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Fold up the sides to form a rim. Pour the marinade over the catfish. Grill over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until catfish flakes easily when tested with a fork at the thickest part.
Serves 2 to 3.
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds catfish fillets
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Salt, pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
- 1/2 lemon
1. Pour the melted butter and olive oil over the bottom of a large glass baking dish. Top with the catfish fillets.
2. Season with garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.
3. Cook in a 350-degree preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the seasoned bread crumbs over the fillets. Return to the oven and cook an additional 5 minutes.