Recipe and photo by Susan L. Ebert
I’m all for catfish … just decidedly against frying ’em in the house. For fish frys, my go-to set-up is a propane-fired outdoor stove with a 50,000-BTU burner topped with a 10-quart fry pot with a basket liner. You’ll also want to have fireproof gloves, safety glasses or other eye protection, a long clip-on fry thermometer, and a long-handled spider or long wooden-handled tongs.
Serves 8 to 10
- 5 to 6 pounds catfish fillets
- 1/2 gallon (8 cups) buttermilk
- 1 cup Tabasco sauce
- 6 cups organic yellow stone-ground cornmeal
- 1/3 cup Cajun spice (I like Tony Chachere’s)
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 1 1/2 gallons peanut oil
Blue Corn Hushpuppies (recipe follows; fry them after the catfish)
Prepare the catfish: Four to 6 hours ahead, rinse the catfish fillets and drain them in a large colander. Pour the buttermilk and Tabasco sauce into an airtight container large enough to also hold the fillets, or divide the mixture equally between two containers, and stir to blend. Add the fillets to the buttermilk mixture one at a time, turning to coat completely so they don’t stick together. Marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.
When you are ready to cook, measure the cornmeal, Cajun spice, salt, and pepper into a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until evenly blended. Have a large plastic container (that can hold at least 12 cups) with a tight-fitting lid handy.
Set up an outdoor workstation by your fryer with enough room to hold the catfish-buttermilk container, the bowl of the cornmeal mixture, and the plastic container. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet for the finished fried fish. Preheat the oven to 200° F.
Fry the catfish: Place the fry pot and its inner basket on the propane burner, making sure it’s centered and secure, and add enough oil to fill the basket to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Clip the thermometer to the edge of the pot. Ignite the propane burner and bring the oil temperature to 350° F. This will be your target temperature for the duration of the fish fry.
Place 2 cups of the cornmeal mixture in the large lidded container (you want to work with this much at a time so it doesn’t get soggy). Working quickly, fish a fillet out of the buttermilk, shake off the moisture, dredge it in the container of cornmeal, give it a few brisk shakes, then drop it into the hot oil. Fry 2 to 4 fillets at a time so that you don’t crowd them. Fry for 7 to 8 minutes, without turning, or until the fillets turn golden brown. When the cornmeal dredging mixture starts to form damp balls, empty the container, wipe it out with paper towels, and add 2 more cups of the dry mixture.
Transfer the fillets to the wire rack to drain until you’ve worked through the entire batch, then place the baking sheet in the warm oven to keep them warm until the hushpuppies are ready.
Blue Corn Hushpuppies
In addition to its nutty flavor and earthy texture, stone-ground cornmeal retains nutrients from the hull and germ. A 1 1/2-inch-diameter cookie dough scoop is just the ticket for scooping hushpuppy dough; it’s quick, and the perfect size.
Yields about 3 dozen
- 2 cups organic stone-ground blue cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons organic all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 1 green jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 1 red jalapeño, seeded and minced
Prepare the hushpuppies: Sift the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a glass measuring cup and stir in the beaten egg. Mix the onion with the jalapeños in a small bowl.
Fry the hushpuppies: After the catfish comes out of the fryer, raise the oil temperature to 370° F. Pour the buttermilk mixture and the minced vegetables into the dry ingredients and blend, using a Danish dough whisk or large wooden spoon, until the batter is moist.
Drop by rounded tablespoons into the hot oil, cooking only 6 to 8 at a time, for 2 to 3 minutes, turning once, until golden brown (crack open one of the early hushpuppies to make sure it’s cooked through). Drain on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Serve hot.