Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yesterday it was Fried Froglegs....today it is

Pan-Fried Catfish
On Mother’s Day, my Grandson, Bing, helped feed the catfish that are abundant in the vineyard pond. It was a great treat for him; his eyes were as big as saucers! The fish are fed a special food and look forward to meal time. So much so, that when they hear the 4 wheeler approaching the pond, they come rushing to the water’s surface, tails and fins flipping and flapping, making quite a splash!
Catfish used to be considered a “junk” fish, a “bottom-feeder” fish not worthy of being prepared for a fancy meal. Today’s farm-raised catfish are a different story. I think a platter of crispy, crunchy crusted fried catfish makes a delightful meal, particularly when paired with homegrown sliced tomatoes and a very special sauce. Hush puppies are wonderful little morsels, but I prefer hot buttery cornbread. It’s true, fresh corn on the cob, dripping with butter and sprinkled with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper would be delicious, but I think with the breading on the fish and the cornbread, you don’t need another starch on the plate. But, that is your choice to make.
Living in Kansas, farm-raised catfish are always available, but ocean fish are a different story. You need to take the time to find a great source for fresh fish and seafood. Here in Overland Park, we are fortunate to have Whole Foods. These beautiful stores have some of the best fresh fish and seafood because they have their own fishing fleet. They supply their own stores with the very best. Their fresh catfish is so much better than that you find in the chain grocery stores. You want to buy the very freshest.
When shopping for catfish, you first must decide if you are serving a whole catfish to each guest, or will there be a big platter of fillets on the table. I love a whole catfish myself, but with guests, you may not want to get into the whole bone thing. When being served a whole catfish in a good restaurant, the waiter will offer to de-bone your fish for you, right there at the table. At home, you must also consider your pan situation and stove top space. Frying whole fish takes a lot of room, a lot of pans, a lot of oil.
These two decisions made, you are ready.

Pan-Fried Catfish Fillets
Serves 4
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup fine-ground cornmeal
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large eggs
2 to 3 cups vegetable oil
2 12 ounce catfish fillets

Here we go again, another decision. What pan to use. Let me suggest you use a Dutch oven for frying. A skillet is simply too shallow to protect you and your stovetop from hot splattering grease! Pour the oil into the pan, adding enough to make ½” oil in bottom of pan.
Next, preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet, place the sheet on the middle rack in the oven.
Now for the fish; trim the skin and the dark fatty flesh from the fillets. Cut each fillet in half lengthwise. This gives you 4 equally sized fillets to insure they all cook in the same amount of time.
Place ½ cup flour in a wide shallow dish. In a separate wide shallow dish, mix together the remaining ½ cup flour, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and cayenne. In a third shallow dish, whisk the eggs with 1 tablespoon oil until uniform.
Pat each fish fillet dry with paper towels. Lightly salt and pepper each side of fillets, then drop into the bowl of flour. Pat the fillets to dust each lightly. Next, dip in the egg, turning to coat well. Hold each fillet over the bowl to let excess drip off. Next coat the fillets in the cornmeal mixture. Shake off excess and lay on another wire rack set over a baking sheet (not the one in the warm oven!)
Heat the oil in the Dutch oven over high heat until the temperature reaches 400 degrees. Do not let the oil reach the smoking point.
Place 2 fillets in the hot oil and fry, turning one time, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil between 385 and 390 degrees. Remove the fillets with a slotted spoon, and lay them on a plate lined with several layers of paper towel. Blot to help remove any excess oil. Transfer fried fish to the wire rack in the warm oven. You do not want to keep the fish on the paper towel very long because it will make the bottom crust turn soggy.
Bring the oil back up to 400 degrees and fry the remaining two fillets.
To serve these fillets, prepare lemon wedges and/or a dipping sauce.

Most of us have had our fried catfish with tartar sauce, an excellent choice. But there are other sauce ideas you might prefer. Here is one I think is delicious, it is rich and complex.

Creamy Chipotle Chile Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
4 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until flavors blend, a minimum of 30 minutes. I make mine early in the day. This sauce can be refrigerated for up to several days.

To make your own Tartar Sauce:
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ tablespoon minced cornichons (tiny French pickles) plus 1 teaspoon cornichon juice
1 tablespoon minced scallion
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 tablespoon capers, minced
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate, just as in Chipotle recipe.

What’s for dessert? A natural!
Lemon Meringue Pie
Lemon Filling:
4 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 (9-inch) pre-baked pie shell
1 recipe Meringue, recipe follows
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Whisk egg yolks in medium size mixing bowl and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and gradually, 1 whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture.
Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and gently stir in butter, lemon juice, and zest until well combined. Pour mixture into pie shell and top with meringue while filling is still hot. Make sure meringue completely covers filling and that it goes right up to the edge of the crust. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until meringue is golden. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Make sure pie is cooled completely before slicing.
Meringue Topping:
4 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Use to top lemon filling.
Yield: topping for 1 (9-inch) pie

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