August 2017
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Chef's Corner

My Road to SouthFresh and the World’s Best Catfish

My first memory of food is my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings. It was a cross between traditional dumplings and a chicken potpie due to the flaky crust she would make and roll out to cover the surface in her cast-iron Dutch oven. As a child growing up in Tallassee, I really didn’t think anything could be much better, unless it was her biscuits and fig preserves she made each year from the tree I used to climb in the backyard. My dad, Coach Paul Taylor, was a foodie before the term was coined. Even though he passed when I was 7, I will always remember him wanting, and sometimes forcing, me to try new things. Sometimes the results were not as he expected; 7-year-olds tend to have an aversion to pickled beets.

When I moved to Auburn at 18, my first job was washing dishes in a bar/restaurant, making ends meet and hopefully having a little left over; though that was rare on $5 per hour. I never really considered working with food. Honestly, at that point, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As is the norm when working in a restaurant, one day a cook didn’t show and I got an undeserved and unwanted promotion to fry cook. I was terrible. They should really offer refunds to anyone who ordered anything I cooked those first few months.

In college towns, graduation is an occasion akin to Mother’s Day and Valentine’s. Everyone goes out and all at the same time. I got a call asking me to help at another restaurant for the weekend, maybe the best restaurant in the area at the time, and certainly nicer than anything I had been exposed to thus far in my young career. Looking back, I guess that’s where I got the bug. The atmosphere was different. It wasn’t simply putting food on a plate for someone to scarf down; there was love involved. I know it’s hard to imagine, if you’ve never worked in a professional kitchen, but the people in the back actually cared. They cared about you. They wanted you to enjoy yourself and the food they served.

Seeing that type of care brought me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to make people happy. Later, I would tell my employees to pretend like every plate is being served to your mother.

After working in the industry for a while, going to culinary school and finally getting my bachelor’s, I realized I was missing out on being a dad. At that time, I had a 2-year-old son. One day he was in the grocery store and saw a guy in a chef coat. He called him "Dad." My own son didn’t know who I was due to the long hours and very limited time I was able to see him. So, I quit.

At that point I had started a small gourmet foods company and wanted to give entrepreneurship a try. That lasted all of six months.

While looking for a job, I came across a teaching position at a local culinary school. Now, my mom taught for 28 years and my dad was a coach and a teacher. It’s in my blood, right? Nope. Refunds should again be offered.

That being said, things improved. Hours were better, I actually had retirement and benefits and most importantly, my boys (now three of them) knew my name.

A few years later, I was offered a job as the chef at a food broker. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, I didn’t either. It’s basically promoting products to restaurants and distributers – being a middleman, if you will.

It was during this time that I came in contact with SouthFresh. After a while, it was apparent this company was different from the rest. Quality product, approachable and, most importantly, I felt they honestly had the same attitude toward catfish I had developed when cooking food. They really cared that the customer received the best. Not only that, they also wanted to make sure the farmer was treated fairly for producing a great product.

I think I bothered them for about a year before convincing them to take a chance on me. I’m blessed they did. SouthFresh has been the best thing to happen in my career, without question. I know I can go out every day and have familylike support from my company and everyone in it while promoting and selling a product that is the best in the market.

 

BUFFALO CATFISH NUGGETS

 

Buffalo Catfish Nuggets

Servings: 2-4

1 pound U.S. farm-raised catfish nuggets
Oil, for frying
1 package fish fry (Louisiana, Zatarain’s, etc.)
4 ounces wing sauce (I like Texas Pete)
4 ounces ranch or blue cheese dressing
Carrots and celery, as desired

In a deep fryer or large saucepan, preheat oil to 350°. Thaw and rinse catfish nuggets well. In a medium bowl, pour fish fry mix. Dredge nuggets in mix, making sure to coat evenly and thoroughly. Place nuggets in hot oil, not overcrowding the container. Fry until golden and crisp, maybe a little longer than you normally would. Remove nuggets and drain well on rack or paper towel-lined plate. In a large bowl, pour wing sauce. Toss nuggets in sauce to coat evenly. Put in center of a plate and serve with carrots and celery. Dressing can be drizzled over the top or served on the side as a dipping sauce.

 

GRILLED CATFISH STEAKS

Servings: 2-4

1 lemon, zest and juice
4 ounces olive oil
1 ounce chopped garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ bunch parsley, chopped and divided
4 (approx. 4 ounces each) U.S. farm-raised catfish steaks

In a bowl, mix together lemon zest, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and half the parsley. Coat catfish thoroughly and place in a container. Refrigerate for a minimum of an hour. Remove catfish from refrigerator to temper. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Grill for around 3-4 minutes per side or until a nice crust has formed and fish is cooked throughout. Remove from grill and place on plate. Squeeze lemon juice over catfish and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

 

BBQ WHOLE CATFISH

 

BBQ Whole Catfish

Servings: 2-4

4 whole (5-8 ounces) U.S. farm-raised catfish
4 ounces BBQ rub
Cooking spray
Soaked wood chips or chunks (I prefer pecan or white oak)

Preheat grill for an indirect cook, putting all coals on one side of the grill. Rub catfish liberally with BBQ rub and coat well with cooking spray. When coals are ready, place wet wood chips on coals and put fish on the opposite portion of the grill, as far from the coals as you can. Cover with lid, allowing the smoke to vent and temperature to reach around 450°. Cooking times will vary, but I’ve found around 15 minutes is usually close, turning fish with a spatula once at the halfway point. Remove with a spatula, supporting the entire fish when lifting. Serve warm.

 

CATFISH PICATTA

 

Catfish Picatta

Servings: 2-4

1 cup seasoned flour
1 cup water
2 eggs
1½ cups seasoned Panko breadcrumbs
4 (5-7 ounces each) U.S. farm-raised catfish fillets
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup white wine
1 lemon, juiced
3 Tablespoons capers
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
8 cherry tomatoes, halved

In three separate bowls, place flour, mix water and eggs, and breadcrumbs. Dredge fillets in flour, shaking off excess. Dredge in egg wash, allowing excess to drip off. Coat well with breadcrumbs. Place fillets in refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes for crust to set. Do not overlap or stack as this will cause the breading to fall off. When ready to cook, in a high-sided fry pan or skillet on medium heat, heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter. When hot, pan fry fillets until golden brown and cooked through, around 4 min per side. Remove fish to drain and wipe pan clean of oil and any particles that may have fallen off the crust. To pan over medium heat, add wine and lemon juice. Allow to reduce by ½. Remove pan from heat. Whisk in remaining butter (this should not break and thicken the liquid). When butter has combined, remove from heat. Add capers, parsley and tomatoes. Mix. Place fillets on plates and spoon sauce over tops.

 

Brian Taylor CEC, CCE is the corporate executive chef for SouthFresh Farms.