Tag Archives: seafood

Cormeal-Fried Catfish

My husband and I are deep in the throes of wedding hangover. Something happens when your sister gets married–the steady stream of strong emotions, the abundance of tears, the brief interactions with beloved family members you rarely get to see: we awoke Sunday morning feeling like we had been binge drinking for about 30 years straight.

As we wandered around the house with eyes feeling like raw red meat and heads feeling like bowls of mushy oatmeal, I realized I had been right: I didn’t have the fortitude to blog about anything remotely wedding-esque, and I was so grateful so pull this recipe from the line-up and toss it into the world while I avoid the 881 pictures currently loitering on my camera’s memory stick. And so I bring you . . . fish.

I’ve put off making catfish for a long time. I heard it was a bottom dweller? And eats trash at the bottom of the lake or ocean or sea or wherever it lives? And that just sounds gross. Plus, their whiskers look real nasty. I mean, what are they made out of? Not hair, surely? Probably some kind of disgusting probe-like thing.

Yikes—why am I talking about this before telling you to eat this fish?

Moving on. Catfish is cheap. I got mine for $2.29/pound, which beats the prices on salmon these days.

Are you afraid of cooking fish? I’ve heard some people are. Well, if you buy fillets or ask the fishmonger to fillet a whole fish for you, there are no bones—and for these babies, no skin either—so it’s not any grosser than raw chicken. Less gross, I would venture.

With a simple cornmeal coating, this isn’t a heavy battered dish—it’s light, crisp on the outside, delicate on the inside. Mmmmm.

Don’t overcook it! That’s a crime with fish, and gives them the texture of canned tuna—kind of stringy and dried out. If you can learn to cook your fish to just the right point, it will change your experience of seafood. See this post for scientific evidence.


(Serves 4)

1 whole catfish, filleted (or 2 large skinned fillets, halved crosswise)

4 generous pinches salt

4 generous pinches black pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 TBS Tabasco sauce

4 TBS spicy brown mustard

1 1/2 c cornmeal

4 TBS oil


1 whole lemon

Ask your fishmonger to fillet a whole catfish for you. Don’t know your fishmonger? Well, it’s time to make his acquaintance. He’s the dude behind the fish counter wielding the large knife and wearing the rubber apron. Or the dudette–let’s not be old-fashioned here. This should yield 2 very large fillets, which I halved crosswise to create 4 servings. I hadn’t yet halved them in the picture below, so you’ll just have to trust me. Sprinkle all sides of fillets with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Tabasco. Be generous with your seasonings, since these fillets are fairly thick.

Now, spread a thin layer of mustard (any kind is good) over both sides of the fillets.

Coat the fillets in cornmeal, and shake off the excess. You can do this in a large ziploc bag, or you can do what I did and simply pour the cornmeal over the cutting board and turn the fillets in it a few times until they’re covered.

Your pan may not be big enough for all 4 fillets, so heat 2 skillets with 2 TBS of oil in each. When heated, lay in the fillets. My pathetically small (8 inch) skillet could only fit one fillet at a time:

Thankfully my grandfather just bequeathed me (via Erica’s wedding) with the mother of all cast iron skillets, which had been collecting rust in his basement for years. It has a diameter of a whopping 14 inches, and after a few days of hefting it around I expect to see drastic changes in the girth of my musculature.

After about 45 seconds, turn the heat down to low and cover the skillets. Let the fish cook for about 4 minutes. Take the cover off and gently turn the fillets over using a sturdy spatula. When I used tongs to do this, my cornmeal coating fell off. Lesson learned: don’t be like me! Befriend your local spatula.

Cover the fillets again and cook for 6 minutes (still on low) or until just cooked through. These fillets will be firmer and meatier than tilapia or even salmon. As soon as they’re done, sprinkle with chives and squeeze fresh lemon juice over them–the lemon juice really makes the fish. Serve it with Spicy Garlic Sauce, and I guarantee you will have no regrets.

Conclusion: nothing about this delectable dish says “bottom feeder”. There is no heavy, fishy flavor–it has kind of a “blank slate” flavor like tilapia, but with a heartier texture. Conquer your fears and make it this weekend! Then, report back to me for a gold star.

Click here for printer-friendly version: Cornmeal-Fried Catfish

Caramelized Ginger Salmon

I absolutely love this dish. In fact, it may be my favorite way to eat salmon. It’s my idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner (hello, husband o’ mine? Are you reading this post?). Make it asap, and you’ll understand why I’m floating in clouds of love at the dinner table when this is on the menu.


(Serves 2)

2 salmon fillets (about 1.3 lbs total)

2 TBS peanut oil (or canola)

Salt and pepper

3 TBS brown sugar

1 1/2 TBS minced ginger

2 TBS fish sauce

1 TBS soy sauce

2 TBS dry sherry (or Shaoxing wine)

Dash red pepper flakes

Lime juice from 1/2 lime

1 bunch diced green onions

1/2 c chopped cilantro

White rice, for serving

First, put your rice on–I love my rice cooker, because it allows me to forget about the rice knowing it will turn out perfectly with no help from me.

Now, chop the ginger and assemble the sauce of love: mix the brown sugar, ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, sherry, and red pepper flakes.

If you’ve never used fish sauce, by now it’s available in most mainstream groceries. It looks like this:

It smells hideous in the bottle and when it first hits the pan . . . but it adds a depth of distinctly Thai flavor that is amazing.

Now it’s time for the fishy part of this business. Aren’t these fillets be-yewtiful??

The time has come to skin the salmon pieces. Warning: you must own a good sharp knife to successfully remove the skin. I come from a long tradition of Henkels users.

The trick is to get the knife started at a corner, and then slip the knife between the skin and the flesh, leaving the fish as intact as you can. If you wield the knife with your right hand, place your left hand flat on the skin–this will help you control the knife so that it stays near the surface.

Extra tip: unless you plan on taking out your garbage immediately, fish related trash will stink up your house in no time at all. I put the packaging and skin in a plastic bag and freeze it until it’s time to take the trash out next.

It’s stinky enough that even the yellow smiley-faced man isn’t pleased.

Now, spread some of the oil all over salmon pieces, then sprinkle on salt and pepper.

Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick skillet. When it’s hot, add the salmon fillets.

Cook over high heat for 1 minute, then flip gently using a sturdy spatula. Don’t be like me and use tongs . . .

Salmon is so delicate it will fall apart if we don’t treat it with tender care. Cook for 1 minute on second side, then add sauce; cook for 3 minutes.

It should start getting nice and bubbly.

While it’s bubbling, I quickly wash and chop my greens: cilantro and green onions in bountiful amounts.

Add the lime juice and turn the fillets to coat them in the sauce. Cook for 2 more minutes, then add the cilantro and green onions, and cook for 1 final minute or until the fish is just done.

The lesson is: you must not overcook the salmon. I will show you photographs to convince you of this in a minute. You have 2 choices: a dried out canned tuna-like piece of fish (no!), or a delicately tender piece of fish that is flaking apart into moist pieces (yes!).

Let’s investigate this beautiful piece of fish . . .

See how the pieces flake off with a mere touch of the chopsticks?

It’s perfect.

Be smart: choose option 2. Don’t overcook your fish.

Not to imply that this recipe isn’t the exact incarnation of all that is good in the world, but if you like a lot of sauce you can consider doubling the sauce recipe.

Serve over rice . . . as if that wasn’t totally obvious from all the pictures. Uh huh.

If you want some more veggies involved in your meal, serve this with a delectable little cucumber side dish a la mode of what my cousin Luke and his wife Kelsey made last year at family vacation. Recipe coming tomorrow.

Click here for printer-friendly version: Caramelized Ginger Salmon