My Rouses Everyday, May & June 2018
If there were ever a fish that deserved its own day of the week, it would be catfish — it’s a Friday staple on Rouses hot lines year-round.
Like gumbo, the way we eat catfish is local, varying right down to the region. In Lower Alabama, our customers eat fried catfish with grits — or lima beans. In New Orleans and its North Shore — and the Bayou area, where we’re headquartered — they eat fried catfish and white beans. In Acadiana, Greater Baton Rouge and the surrounds, they top fried catfish with another Rouses specialty, crawfish étouffée, in a combo commonly known as Catfish Acadiana. And in Mississippi, the leading catfish-producing state, it seems like they eat fried catfish with everything!
Frying catfish is a skill every Southerner should have. I learned how by watching my mom. The technique is simple and doesn’t really require a formal recipe.
Rinse the fish and pat it dry with paper towels before salting and peppering each side. “Paint” the fish with yellow mustard; this is an old-school substitute for egg wash. It works well with shrimp, too. Dredge the fish in seasoned cornmeal (seasoned with granulated garlic, red pepper, black pepper and salt) — or if you like a lighter coating, use all-purpose flour instead. Press on the flesh until the fish fillet flattens out, to better work in some of the coating. Shake off any excess.
Peanut oil, canola, soybean, sunflower — even coconut oil — are all good choices for frying. Only rule? Choose something with a high smoke point that won’t overpower the flavor of the fish. There’s no negotiating on temperature, though. The ideal temperature for the oil is 325 degrees. Oil that’s too hot will burn the coating, while oil that’s too cool will make the catfish greasy.*
When you place the fish in the pot, don’t overcrowd the fillets. Sometimes anxious fry cooks add too many pieces at one time, which can lower the temperature, causing the fish to be soggy and saturated with too much oil.
Deep-fry the fish in hot oil to cover for 7 to 8 minutes, max. You’ll know the fish is ready when it’s golden brown and floats to the top.
Drain off the pieces after frying — use a rack over a cookie sheet, cut-up paper grocery bags or a plate lined with paper towels to catch the grease and absorb any moisture. Always lay the fillets single file, with no overlap. (They’ll get soggy and the breading will fall off if you stack them.) Season with salt while the fish is still hot.
Not eating right away? Opt for the cooling-rack-set-over-a-baking-sheet draining method. You can transfer it to a low-temperature oven to keep everything warm. Whatever you do, don’t wrap the fish in plastic wrap or foil. That will cause it to sweat and get soggy.
*If you’re making more than one batch, make sure the oil gets back up to 325 degrees before making each batch.