Happy National Catfish Day to our Galley Pirates crew! Didn’t know there was a National Catfish Day? Why, yes there is! Every June 25th. I invoked this venerable holiday to compel my co-pirate — she of the Minnesota walleye upbringing and Newfoundland salted codfish matrimony — into overcoming her irrational aversion and trying catfish for the first time. Wanting the experience to go smoothly (and to use her galley, since mine is currently on the hard getting a new keel cooler), I took a page from the John Folse Culinary Institute in Thibodaux, Louisiana and localized it…breading the catfish in crushed, Old Bay seasoning-coated Crab Chips and serving it on a soft bun with a pungent coleslaw. I know…you could apply that treatment to road kill and pass it off as pretty fine fare…but give the lowly bottom-feeding chucklehead a try. Eddy-the-Spaniel-endorsed!
1 bag coleslaw mix, or a half-head cabbage, sliced thin
1 sweet onion, like Vidalia, or 1/2 red onion soaked in ice water for 10 minutes after slicing
1/3 cup cornichon pickles and 3-4 tablespoons of their juice
1/3 cup capers
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt
I say make the coleslaw first — even a day ahead — to let it marinate and get good and tartarey. The amount of liquid in this recipe is high — you will have lots of “brine” in the bottom of the bowl — but I like this for several reasons. First, it lets the whole thing really pickle and get more tangy than it would be if it was just coated. Second, it “washes down” some of the mayonnaise, letting things get thoroughly coated, but not gloppy. Third, any liquid not left in the bowl soaks into the bread of the sandwich and vinegarey bread wrapped around rich, fried fish with both chips and pickles on the inside is just really, really good.
Chop the cornichons and capers finely.
Slice the onion as thinly as possible, and mix with the cabbage.
Combine the cornichons, capers, and all remaining ingredients well, and pour over the cabbage and onions. Toss to coat well, and chill for at least an hour before serving.
Now prepare your catfish….
Potato Chip Crusted Catfish
Catfish filets, about 1/2 pound per person
Nice, big, soft French or Italian bread or rolls
2 cups whole milk
2 cups flour
1 large bag potato chips
2-3 cups peanut oil or other frying oil of choice
Additional Old Bay seasoning
So in New Orleans, this catfish is breaded with Zapp’s Crawtators — the local chip purveyor’s crawfish and creole-seasoned potato chips. But for the Chesapeake, the answer is Herr’s Crab Chips, flavored with Old Bay seasoning. For your catfish, be sure to go as absolutely fresh and reputable as you can. I will defend the culinary joy of catfish anytime, anyplace…but it is, in fact, a bottom feeder…you will want it to have fed upon a palatable bottom! My local grocery does a fine job (and their fishmonger is willing to give it a good sniff, and let me do so, to be sure), but I relish any opportunity to visit Annapolis Seafood Markets up the road from our slip, and did so today. Given the option, smaller filets that will result in one manageable filet per sandwich are convenient. In this case, I settled for lovely 1-pound filets that were probably thicker than optimal and had to be split into 3 pieces to serve.
Season the catfish filets with Old Bay, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess.
Whisk together the eggs and milk in one large (filet-accomodating) dish. Crush the chips in the bag with your hands until about the size of corn-flakes and spread them in another dish–enjoy this step…think about how often you have tried to keep a bag of chips from getting crushed in transit. Dip floured filets in egg wash…
…then in chips, pressing chips all over the filet.
Heat the oil in a deep pot — today we used Caroline’s pressure cooker which, in addition to having a nice, wide profile, has a sort of “bulb” at the bottom to reduce oil spatter. When the oil is hot enough that a little pinch of flour or a piece of chip sizzle vigorously when dropped in, it’s ready. Ease a filet in, and fry each filet about 6-7 minutes total, turning once in the middle, using a couple of wide spatulas.
Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. No need to worry about it cooling while you fry its comrades — sandwiches don’t require hot fish, and with the breading there’s no gross-factor of leaving it to cool. (If you are super health-conscious or hot-oil-averse, you can bake the filets in the oven instead, at 450 degrees for about 10-12 minutes total, turning once.)
Place a human-stomach-sized filet on a bun with a really healthy dollop of slaw, and serve with perhaps additional chips, gherkins, lemon slices for squeezing, and LOTS of napkins!
No really, LOTS of napkins!