Jim Coleman | Getting hooked up with traditional catfish recipes

Posted: September 13, 2007

Q: I would like to make a traditional fried catfish dinner with hush puppies. Would you please send me some easy recipes and tell me the best way to prepare this meal?

- Sue K.

A: As a fisherman, I can tell you that although there is beauty in the simplicity of your request, beauty and catfish don't belong in the same sentence.

I have always thought that with their slimy, ugly whiskers and gaping mouths, catfish would make great creatures for a B horror movie like "Attack of the Killer Farm-Raised Mississippi Catfish."

Understandably, catfish aren't universally admired. Though it's hard to find a small family restaurant in the South without fried catfish on the menu, most restaurants north and west of the Carolinas have yet to experience the wonderful, sweet flavor of catfish.

I'm here to tell you that if you can get past the way they look, you will be rewarded with a beautiful dinner.

Sue, I sense that you can't stop thinking about that Oscar-winning catfish horror classic. Though I'm sure you agree that it would be a "must-see," I bet you have two burning questions to ask: Why must the main character be farm-raised; and why must he come from Mississippi?

I guess central casting (no pun intended) just wanted to draw from the deepest pool (OK, that one I intended) of actors. The fact is that almost 100 percent of commercially sold catfish is farm-raised, and almost 80 percent of the catfish on the market in the United States comes from Mississippi.

The reason behind farm-raising catfish is that they are bottom-feeders, and on farms they are cultivated in a controlled feeding environment. Wild catfish eat anything they can find on the bottom of the lake or pond - a scenario that might truly suit a horror flick.

Enjoy the recipes, Sue. I've got to run. It's time to head for the water with my rod and reel, so I can come up with some more fish tales. *

Chef Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and is the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows – "A Chef's Table" on WHYY (91-FM) at noon Saturdays and "Flavors of America," on Channel 12 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and CN8 Monday through Friday, 4:30 p.m.

TRADITIONAL FRIED CATFISH

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons granulated garlic or garlic powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

cup milk

2 large eggs

4 (8-ounce) farm-raised catfish fillets

Lemon wedges (if desired)

Canola or vegetable oil

In a bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, black pepper, garlic and cayenne pepper. In a separate bowl, stir together the milk and eggs with a fork.

Heat 1/2- to -inch of oil in a skillet to 350 to 365 degrees (best to use a thermometer here).

Dip catfish in egg, then coat with cornmeal mixture. Place fillets in skillet and cook about 5 minutes on each side, or until fish turns golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serves 4.

CLASSIC FRIED CATFISH

cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 ounces dried mustard

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 (8-ounce) farm-raised catfish fillets

Vegetable or canola oil

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large, shallow dish. Sprinkle the fillets with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Dredge in cornmeal mixture, coating evenly. Pour oil to a depth of -inch in a deep, cast-iron skillet; heat to 350 degrees (use thermometer).

Fry fish in batches, 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serves 4.

HUSH PUPPIES

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 eggs

1/4 cup diced onion

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Form into balls and deep-fry 5-8 minutes. Serves 4 to 8.

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