When I was barely knee-high to a grasshopper (meaning very young for those of you who are scratching your heads), my Dad often showed up at my elementary school. He wanted to go fishing, and wanted to take his fishing buddy along. Way back then, anywhere along the Sacramento Delta was good for fishing. All you needed to do was to find a wide spot in the road, pull over to park, then hike down the embankment to the wide, lazy river.
We’d stop in the little delta town of Freeport. Back then, there wasn’t much in town except a marina and the Freeport Bait and Tackle shop. Dad would get a tub of night crawlers and a few cold sodas. Then we would cross over the bridge that has spanned the river since 1929. The bridge hasn’t changed much, but the area and the fishing sure has. Now you can’t fish wherever you please. There are No Trespassing signs all up and down the delta. It’s still a pretty drive, but no stopping! It’s against the rules.
I remember watching my Dad skin the catfish once we got home. If you’ve never seen a catfish skinned, then you don’t want to know. It’s not a pleasant task that involves a hammer, a nail and a pair of pliers. Now that I’m all grown up, I prefer to buy my catfish already filleted and ready for frying.
Imagine my surprise when I learned recently that my Dad doesn’t like to eat fish. All those years of fishing together and I never knew that. I remember Dad ate his share of fried catfish. It must have been in keeping with Catholic teachings of no-meat on Fridays.
Old Fashion Catfish Fry
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound catfish fillets, cut in strips
1 1/2 cups fine cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
Peanut Oil for frying
Lemon Wedges for garnish
In a small bowl, mix buttermilk, water, salt, and pepper. Pour mixture into a flat pan large enough to hold the fillets. Spread fish in one layer over bottom of pan, turning to coat each side, and set aside to marinate. Let fish soak in the flavors for an hour or so.
In a 2 gallon resealable plastic bag, combine the cornmeal, flour, and seafood seasoning.
Add fish to mixture, a few fillets at a time, and tumble gently to coat evenly. Place coated fish on a wire rack until all the fish has been coated. The longer the coating is allowed to rest on the fish, the better it will “stick” when fried.
Place a large, heavy skillet (such as a cast iron) over medium to medium-high heat. Add oil, about 2 inches deep (as you would for fried chicken).
Fry fillets until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Avoid overcrowding so fillets have room to brown properly. Fish should be slightly crisp outside, and moist and flaky inside.
Drain on paper towels. Serve with lemon wedges for garnish.
Now depending upon just how Southern you want to go, serve your catfish with crisp, buttery corn on the cob, a big helping of Collard Greens, and sweet cornbread muffins.