April 14

Hush Puppy Day

Hush, Puppy. Frying Catfish. Vietnamese Catfish. Heloise. Very Important Blind Date.

Today's Flavor

Today is National Hush Puppy Day. Hush puppies are an important part of a well-balanced mess of fried catfish. We see them on other fried seafood platters, too. Most of the time the role of hush puppies is strictly as cheap filler, and that's probably how they came to be in the first place. The story (no idea whether it's true) is that the cook carrying food from the kitchen across the courtyard to the dining room of the main house had to do so with dogs running underfoot. To quiet them, she made some of the coating for the fish or chicken into a ball, fried it up, and threw it to the dogs. Who, of course, went after it.Hush puppies can be raised to a higher level. By incorporating onions, bell peppers, parsley, and perhaps some fresh corn and a little jalapeno, one comes out with a hush puppy that is stands alone. The best hush puppies I ever ate were and are at Cuevas Fish House, an all-you-can-eat fried whole catfish place near Picayune Mississippi.

Deft Dining Rule #404:

No catfish recipe, no matter how involved or careful, will match the goodness of fried catfish with a crisp, golden-brown, cornmeal coating.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Catfish, North Carolina is in farm country fifty-eight miles north of Charlotte. A school of substantial size is there. It's a mile to Lookout Dam on the Catawba River, which forms an enormous reservoir where we imagine more than a few catfish live. No catfish restaurants are in the area, unless that's on the menu at Rock Barn Lyle Creek Grill, three miles away.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The best way to coat catfish (or anything else) with cornmeal for frying is to put the seasoned meal into a big, round-bottomed bowl, toss a few pieces of fish in, and shake the bowl around until everything's coated. If you get good at this, it looks dramatic.

Edible Dictionary

basa, Vietnamese, n.--A member of the catfish family native to the Mekong River valley in Vietnam. It has been eaten throughout Southeast Asia for centuries, but in recent times it's become a big business. Fish farms raise basa in tremendous numbers, and the fish is being exported all over the world. Basa became a big local story when it began showing up in grocery stores and restaurants in this country, and particularly in the South, where it competes with American catfish farms. In flavor and texture, basa compares favorably with farm-raised catfish, and it's usually cheaper. For some time, it was even sold as catfish, but new laws forced it to be identified as basa on the label. (Or "swai" or "tra," two other similar species from Southeast Asia). Restaurants looking to save a buck may well be passing these off as catfish. More reason for strong truth-in-menu laws.

Annals Of Food Writing

Heloise Cruse was born on this date in 1919. She created a newspaper column called Hints from Heloise in a Honolulu newspaper in 1959, and wrote it for a couple of decades. Her daughter writes it now. She may be most famous for telling us what else to do with vinegar besides making salad dressing.

Food Namesakes

Jack Bruce was born today in 1943. He doesn't have a food name, but his band, Cream, did. Its drummer had a double food name: Ginger Baker. . . The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck's novel, suggested by the lot of grape pickers in California, was published today in 1939. . . Lemuel Boozer, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1860, was born today in 1809.

Words To Eat By

"Eating at a new, highly recommended restaurant is like a Very Important Blind Date, a contract with uncertainty you enter into with great expectation battling the cynicism of experience. You sit waiting, wondering about the upcoming moments of revelation. Somewhere in the back of your head is the dour warning that disappointment is inevitable but you don't really believe it or you wouldn't be there. The best eaters are always optimists."--Stuart Stevens, American journalist.

Words To Drink By

"I am willing to taste any drink once."--American writer James Branch Cabell, born today in 1879.