Blog by: Lloyd Tackitt 11/7/2017
I am fortunate to live on a clear and clean river. The fish do not have any off-flavors from the water. The flesh not only has a very clean and light taste but the texture is fantastic because these fish swim in current their entire lives, they are muscular. It is extraordinarily rare to see a fish with even a slight pot belly.
My favorite tasting fish is Bluegill, second is Crappie and third is Catfish. But there is not a whole lot of distance between them in the flavor department, or in the texture department. Bluegill and Crappie are more "flaky" than the Catfish, but that is a difference that doesn't make it better or worse, just different.
When I want to eat fish I generally keep Catfish for the simple reason that my wife dislikes finding fish bones. She's a West Texas girl and didn't grow up eating fish. For her benefit I fillet. Otherwise I wouldn't fillet. Now and then I want some Bluegill and eat alone, and eat them with bones in. Not often though, it seems a bit strange to me to eat separate meals.
I can, and have, filleted bluegills. It has always turned out to be a very disappointing thing though. Perhaps it is partly because my filleting skills aren't awesome, but it's at least partly also because Bluegills are small and therefore so are the fillets. Truth is I hate to kill a bluegill for the amount of meat I can fillet, so I eat them whole - well not the heads or the innards of course. I cut the heads off, gut them, scale them and remove all the fins except for the tail fin. I roll them in mustard then cornmeal breading (recipe below) and fry. The tail fin is the end treat, it is like eating a potato chip, a thin/crunchy/salty experience.
But mostly I keep Catfish and fillet them. On a decent sized cat you can get gorgeous fillets that are wide and thick. And these cats are as clean tasting as any fish you've ever eaten anywhere. I cut the fillets into crosswise strips about 1.5" wide and then cut those in half lengthwise. This makes more or less a long nugget style piece of meat.
I cut them like that because I personally like a high ratio of fried breading to the meat, and these are generally an inch or more thick so there's this delightful ratio of not too much breading and not too much meat. I soak the fillets in salt water overnight in the refrigerator - that's how my grandmother always did it - except when the cats came from muddy water she soaked them in milk to remove the mud flavor, and that does work. These don't have a mud flavor, but the salt water draws out any remaining blood and makes the meat that much better.
I put the fillets on a wire rack for a couple of hours before cooking, pat them dry with paper towels and then let them air-dry. When it's time I cut them up, douse in a mixture of eggs and milk then in the breading and then back on the wire rack to dry again. Once they are dry to the touch I drop them into hot oil, around 350f or so, and let them cook until I think they are done - about 3 minutes I guess, but actually I go by sight.
The breading is half yellow cornmeal and half all purpose flour and a hit of crawfish boil seasoning. The amount of seasoning depends on your audience. My audience does not care for hot spices so I go easy. After I remove my own fish from the oil I hit those pieces again but this time with Creole Seasoning. I would prefer it to be in the coating mix, but one does compromise when married. Still, it is very good this way too.
I fry the catfish last in sequence with the side dishes so the fish can be served extremely hot. If you don't have to wait for the fish to cool enough to be able to eat it, then you are being served the fish at less than the best temperature. The way this works my wife is eating before I start my own batch of fish to cook. If there are more people they get theirs in sequence. Okay, I might pick off a piece or two while cooking...
My wife makes a killer tartar sauce that has a lot of chopped dill pickle in it - which puts a lot of pickle juice in it, which takes the place of the usual lemon. I don't know the recipe because if I knew the recipe then I'd probably have to make it.
This wild caught, firm textured, clean tasting Catfish is far superior to anything you can get in any restaurant at any price. This is 5 star fare. No, this is 10 star fare. Michelin would go crazy for this dish and it is so simple that a beginner cook can do it well.
And it is healthy. I realize that not all waters are healthy waters, most states put out a warning list of which fish in which body of water you shouldn't eat. I'd check that. But assuming your Catfish comes from healthy water you basically can't put a better food into your body.
Happy Catfishing and eating!