There’s more than one way to skin a catfish.
A few years ago, I was looking out the kitchen window at the pond down where the trees and rocks make a good hiding spot for ducks, tadpoles and snakes. I could see something glistening and shiny in the foliage moving straight up and down. Rolley Len had been down there earlier. I tried to figure out what it was. I guessed it wasn’t a snake because of the motion. But I still wanted to know what it was, so I headed down the hill to check it out.
As I walked down the gravel driveway, I saw Rolley Len next to the fence with a fishing pole in her hands. She didn’t hear me coming because she was engrossed in what she was doing. As I got closer, the shiny object once again began gliding up toward the tops of the trees and back down again. Then I heard her little voice say, "Fish going up. Fish going down." Sure enough, there was her little bait fish on the line stuck on a tree limb way up in the air.
Rolley Len had baited her own hook and, although she was quite short, somehow she cast the line into a very tall tree. Since then, both Rolley Len and Cason have gotten better at casting and they still love to fish almost as much as they love to eat it.
As the winter-hunting seasons end, there is always a little sadness, but it really doesn’t last too long because, as March approaches, they know it is time to catch some catfish whether with limb lines or poles. They start collecting Catawba worms and catching bait fish from the pond to prepare to catch their next meal.
And when they start fishing for catfish, they want to cook everything they catch as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how few or how many they catch; if it comes home with them, they want it fried up for supper with hushpuppies and slaw.
We usually eat them fried whole or filleted, but catfish are also delicious pan-seared. Sometimes people say catfish doesn’t have much of a taste if it isn’t battered and deep-fried, but here are a few recipes to try that are definitely not short on taste. Not only are they kid-friendly, they are all good with slaw whether it is on the side or piled on top of the catfish fillets. The next time you bring home a mess of fish, give one of these recipes a try.
SEARED CATFISH WITH BLACK-EYED PEA RELISH
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon jalapeño, chopped
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
1½ cups cooked black-eyed peas, drained
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 ounce chopped Italian olives (such as Mezzetta), if desired
4 (about 4 ounces each) catfish fillets
In a bowl, combine 3 tablespoons oil, vinegar, jalapeño and ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper. In separate bowl, combine peas, tomatoes, onion, parsley and olives. Add oil mixture to pea mixture and toss. Let stand at least 10 minutes.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat remaining oil.
Pat catfish dry. Sprinkle with remaining salt and black pepper. Place fillets in pan and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until fish flakes with a fork. Serve pea relish on the side or spoon some over each fillet once plated.
Note: The relish in this recipe can also be used to top side dishes of greens or peas to add extra flavor.
CATFISH PO'BOY WITH ASIAN SAUCE
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
2 Tablespoons onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
3 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1 Tablespoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup Thai chile sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 (6-ounce) catfish fillets
4 Hoagie rolls, split and toasted
2 cups shredded cabbage (Chinese napa, if available), divided
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat sesame oil. Add onion and ginger. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low. Add hoisin sauce, peanut butter, lime juice and sugar. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove sauce from heat and set aside.
Prepare grill or broiler. In a large zip-top plastic baggie, combine chile sauce and garlic. Add catfish, seal and marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning bag occasionally.
Remove fish from marinade and discard marinade. Place fish on a grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Cook 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Spread about 1 tablespoon sauce on bottom of each hoagie roll. Place about ½ cup cabbage on each roll, then a fillet and top of roll.
CAJUN CATFISH SOFT TACOS
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon paprika
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
4 (6-ounce) catfish fillets
1 Tablespoon butter
4 8-inch flour tortillas
In a shallow dish, combine flour and next 7 ingredients. Dredge fish fillets in flour mixture. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add fillets, sauté 5 minutes. Turn fillets and cook for 4 minutes or until fish flakes when tested with a fork.
In a separate skillet over medium heat, warm tortillas. Turn after 3-4 minutes and heat 2-3 more minutes. Add butter to sides of tortillas before heating if desired. Cut each fillet lengthwise into 4 pieces. Place 4 pieces in each tortilla. Top with slaw (recipe provided) and roll up.
3½ cups red or green cabbage, thinly sliced
¼ cup mayonnaise
1½ Tablespoons cider vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and chill.
Note: Homemade slaw dressing is always better than store-bought bottles. Start with this combination and adjust according to your taste.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.