The whiskered catfish doesn’t get much respect from local anglers, and many are missing out on what is a very fine tasting and decent fighting fish that are abundant in local lakes and ponds.
In this week’s Seafood Recipe of the Week, Chef Tom Douglas offers some ways to prepare them for a great seafood dining experience that will wow folks at the dinner table.
This season we’ll have weekly recipes and advice through October on how to cook up and dish out a wide variety of local seafood by experts like Anthony’s Restaurant; Tiffany Haugen, Outdoor Cooking expert/author; tackle shop owners; local seafood-market owners; and fishing guides and charter services.
Douglas is owner of Assembly Hall; Brave Horse Tavern; Cuoco; Dahlia Lounge; Dahlia Bakery; Etta’s; Home Remedy; Lola; Palace Kitchen; Rub With Love Shack; Seatown; Serious Pie Westlake; Serious Biscuit Westlake; Serious Pie Virginia; and Tanaka San.
Here is Douglas’ advice on how to prepare them, and show off your cooking expertise to guests at the next meal:
Though my preference is to buy, cook, and eat wild fish, I make an exception for farmed catfish. For one thing, farmed catfish taste clean, not muddy like wild catfish often do. For another, the Monterey Bay Aquarium rates US farmed catfish as a Best Choice, one of the most sustainable fish available.
Catfish has a mild flavor and a firm texture that makes it an excellent candidate for pan frying or deep frying. Though you could certainly go the traditional Southern route and roll your catfish in a dredge of seasoned flour and cornmeal before pan-frying it in bacon fat, I also like the way Chef Nate Crave of TanakaSan has been frying fish in the Japanese katsu style.
Katsu means “cutlet,” and, in traditional Japanese cuisine, chicken or pork cutlets are pounded thin, then dredged first in flour, then in beaten egg, and finally in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) before they are deep fried.
Nate follows the basic technique for katsu, but skips the pounding step which is appropriate for meat or poultry but not for fish. Nate’s secret is that he grinds the panko to a flaky powder in the food processor before using it to bread the fish fillets (in a 3-step breading process of seasoned flour, then beaten egg, then panko) which, after frying, results in a thin, very crisp crust. Nate deep fries the fish, but you could instead pan-fry in a shallow layer of hot oil.
Alaksan Halibut Katsu is on the TanakaSan lunch menu at the moment, but you can use this katsu technique for catfish or any fish fillet that’s suitable for frying. If you decide to cook your catfish fillets katsu style, you can do what we do at TanakaSan and serve it with Kewpie mayonnaise, which is a sweet Japanese mayo, and Bull Dog sauce, which is a brand of Japanese tonkatsu sauce, as condiments.
Naturally, you’ll want a big bowl of steamed rice on the side. (Tip: Panko breadcrumbs can be purchased in many supermarkets or in Asian specialty markets. Look for Kewpie mayo and Bull Dog sauce in specialty markets such as Uwajimaya.)
Claypot catfish or Cá Kho Tô is a classic Vietnamese dish of catfish steaks braised in caramelized fish sauce with fresh coconut juice and green onions. If you want to taste claypot catfish, go to my friend Eric Bahn’s restaurant, Monsoon, where it’s a signature on the dinner menu. If you want to try your hand at making it, there’s a recipe in Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (10 Speed Press, 2006).
The recipe for claypot catfish involves a technique that I’ve sometimes borrowed from Vietnamese cuisine to make use of in my own cooking- caramelizing sugar to dark golden brown, then carefully splashing in some fish sauce to produce a potion that’s bittersweet and savory at the same time and works magic in everything from a braise for catfish to a glaze for pork shoulder to a marinade for game hens.