Catfish, in the Southern U.S., is something very special. It is what Trout is to the Appalachian region, or salmon to the Northwest. In the meandering, muddy waters of the Mississippi basin in the Central United States, slippery, whiskered cat fish thrive feeding on the bottoms of the comparatively shallow, slow moving, warm waters. The people there have learned to cook this fish in some truly amazing ways. It’s become such a big part of the local culture, you can go anywhere in the South on a Sunday and you’ll probably find someone doing a fish fry.
You’ll notice that rather than the traditional flour based breader or beer batter, this recipe uses cornmeal, which adds an extra crunch and a certain visual and flavor element to the dish that you just can’t get any other way. It’s also useful for the breading because leftover breading is traditionally mixed with water, green onions and other seasonings to make hushpuppies, or to bread okra to serve with the dish. Traditionally the fried catfish would just be served with a wedge of lemon, but I’ve added a nice sauce to make the dish a little more decadent and special.
Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- 4 fresh catfish filets
- ¼ cup cornmeal
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- dash of cayenne pepper
- 4 strips thick cut bacon, cooked crispy
- parsley for garnish
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup canola oil or peanut oil for frying
- For the sauce:
- ½ cup cream
- dash of salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- Prepare the sauce first by heating the cream in a sauce pot.
- Season and bring to a simmer. Shred the cheese into a small cup or bowl so you can sprinkle it in later. I like to use a Vermont cheddar like Cabot, but any good white cheddar will do just fine. White cheddars can be soft, so use caution when grating it that it doesn’t slip.
- Shake the shredded cheese in a little at a time, whisking constantly. Once there is no longer any cheese clinging to the whisk and the sauce has thickened, cut the heat and allow to sit aside while you work on the catfish.
- Combine the corn meal, flour and seasonings on a plate or in a low dish and mix. Pour the buttermilk into a bowl and dip the catfish filets into it one at a time. Hold the catfish up for a moment to allow any extra buttermilk to drip off then dredge through the corn meal mix.
- Heat the oil on medium high heat in a large skillet and lay the cat fish into the pan 2 at a time. In 2-3 minutes check to see if the fish has taken on the preferred golden brown color and flip the fish over for another 1-2 minutes. It shouldn’t take very long at all but may need a bit more time for larger filets.
- Drain the catfish on a paper towel. Plate it, drizzle with the sauce, and then lay a strip of bacon across each piece. Finish with a bit of parsley and some cracked black pepper.