It’s gospel, as far as I’m concerned: no catfish you ever make will ever be as good as catfish rolled in cornmeal and deep-fried. As simple as that. If you want to give it some extra moxie, marinate it in something good, as I do in this recipe.
The other article of faith concerns the great superiority of small, wild catfish to big, farm-raised ones. Unfortunately, the catfish you find in the store is almost certainly farm-raised, which not only has an off-taste to me, but is also too big.
The essential trick in frying fish is to keep the oil at 375 degrees. Use a fat thermometer to monitor this. Get the kind with the metal probe (not expensive; it may be called a candy thermometer, but it’s the same thing.) Whatever utensil you have that will keep the heat up is fine. I’ve had good luck with a black iron skillet with an inch of oil, a deep Dutch oven with a couple of quarts of oil, and a good electric fryer.
- 2 lbs. small, fresh catfish fillets, preferably wild fish
- 3 Tbs. yellow mustard
- 2 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. Louisiana hot sauce (the new mild version of Tabasco, or Crystal)
- 1 Tbs. juice from a jar of dill pickles
- 1 cup corn meal
- 1 cup corn flour (Fish-Fri)
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
- Peanut oil for frying
1. Wash the catfish, and if necessary remove skin and any remaining bones. Unless the catfish is very small, cut the fillets on the bias into strips about an inch and a half wide.
2. Blend the mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce and pickle juice in a bowl. Put the catfish fillets into the bowl toss them to coat with the marinade. Allow to marinate for about a half hour, refrigerated.
3. In a large, rounded bowl, combine the corn flour, corn meal, salt and granulated garlic with a fork. Put four to six pieces of catfish in the bowl and, agitating the bowl, coat the catfish well with the mixture.
4. Heat the oil to 375 degrees. When it’s ready, put five or six pieces of catfish in and cook to the proverbial golden brown. Remove with a skimmer (or, better, the wire mini-basket on a stick that Asian cooks use). Don’t drain the fish on paper towels–it makes the coating soggy. Use a large wire strainer or that flat screen that’s supposed to keep bacon fat from popping.
5. Serve with tartar sauce and pickles and hot sauce. For a really outrageous treat, coat some sliced dill pickles in the same coating you used on the fish and fry them at the same time. And hush puppies (see recipe on page 00).
Serves four to eight.