One of my earliest childhood memories is catching hideous catfish in the Catawba River outside Charlotte, North Carolina, watching my grandfather and mother clean the fish and fry them in a huge cast-iron skillet, and eating them with coleslaw, hush puppies, and, by all means, ketchup. Of course, catfish was considered "common" in those days, and I still snicker today when I read about the sweet fish being so fashionable in restaurants or watch trendy chefs preparing and saucing it as if it were Dover sole. Although pond cultivation of catfish began in Arkansas, the Mississippi Delta is now the major producer, supplying the national markets with no less than 250 million pounds annually and elevating the lowly fish to a lofty status unheard of just twenty years ago. Fortunately, catfish is one fish that remains as white, firm, and sweet when frozen as when fresh. Fried catfish served with nothing but a few squeezes of lemon or ketchup, or crusted with ground cornmeal and pecans, is still as popular with Southerners as when I was a boy. For a more updated and sophisticated dish, serve the fish with this buttery pecan sauce. ~ James Villas
Serves 4 - 6
Recipe and photo credit: the Georgia Pecan Commission.