"Come summer, as youngsters growing up in rural Georgia, we would fish every day. My Mom called it 'catfish fever.' First Grandpa would clean it, then Mom would bread it with cornmeal and fry it nice and crisp in bacon fat. We loved it."
The narrator of this fish tale now lives far from the catfish-filled creek of his childhood memories. But, thanks to a recent phenomenon called the catfish industry, he can still enjoy catfish when the spirit moves him.
Catfish--all 459 million pounds of them--are now raised on farms in quality-controlled ponds filled with fresh water. The farms are located throughout Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana, so the catfish are still Southern-born and bred.
For those of you new to catfish, the flavor is sweet and mild and the texture is firm. This versatile fish is available as fillets and is great fried, broiled, baked, grilled, sauteed and even stir-fried.
In the following recipe, I suggest breading the fish fillets with fine bread crumbs or cornmeal and oven-frying. Serve with carrot and corn salsa. For dessert, serve scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with diced mango.
For a little extra spice, add a dash of cayenne or chili powder to the bread crumbs or cornmeal.
1/4 cup olive oil
4 (6- to 8-ounce) catfish fillets
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 cup fine bread crumbs or yellow cornmeal
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Drizzle oil on 15x10x3/4-inch pan. Pat catfish fillets dry with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides to taste with salt and pepper.
Place flour on 1 sheet of wax paper and bread crumbs on another sheet. Coat both sides of catfish with flour. Shake off any excess. Dip catfish in egg white. Roll in crumbs to coat. Place fish on prepared pan.
Oven-fry fish on lowest oven rack at 425 degrees until golden and cooked through, about 6 minutes per side. Makes 4 servings.
CARROT AND CORN SALSA
2 cups coarsely shredded carrots
2 cups fresh corn kernels, from 2 ears of corn
1/2 sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons seeded and minced jalapeno chiles
Combine carrots, corn, sweet red pepper and cilantro in large bowl.
Sprinkle cumin in small skillet and heat over very low heat until warm and fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add oil, lime juice and jalapenos.
Toss dressing with vegetables. Season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 4 servings.
VANILLA ICE CREAM WITH MANGO AND GINGER
2 large ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 tablespoon minced crystallized or stem ginger in syrup
1 quart vanilla ice cream
Combine mangoes and ginger in bowl. Reserve at room temperature until ready to serve. Scoop ice cream into dessert dishes. Top with mango mixture. Makes 4 servings.