In the strictest sense, catfish is simply a freshwater fish that for generations was avoided in certain parts of the country while practically revered in the South. It is a “bottom dweller”, will definitely spear an unwary hand with its “barbs”, and isn’t the easiest fish in the world to clean. A number of years ago, different factors came together to increase its popularity and catfish is one of the primary fish now raised via aquaculture in the U.S. As is common, once a fish becomes more popular, many cooking methods are suggested. Again, in dealing with fact, catfish can be prepared in any suitable way – grilled, broiled, baked, sauteed, etc. However, anyone raised in the South can tell you that there is only one way to properly prepare and eat catfish – deep fried. Not only deep-fried, but deep-fried after being rolled in cornmeal and shaken to remove the excess. There are some arguments for mixing a little flour in with the cornmeal, but the concept of “battering” catfish as you would for fish and chips just won’t do. Also, there are only a few acceptable items to serve with catfish – french fries, hushpuppies, and cold slaw being the main ones. You can do fresh sliced tomatoes and/or cucumbers, or pickled green tomato relish, but anything else is stretching the boundaries.
Notwithstanding the wonderful fish and seafood that we have in Florida, few people serve catfish here and no one cooks it correctly. That’s why one of the things we do when we go to Louisiana or Georgia is to have a meal of fried catfish. It’s at the Dorchete Grill and Seafood (or pickup from Cotton’s) in Louisiana and it’s Hendersons in Georgia. Notwithstanding our fondness for beer, ice tea is the standard beverage and there’s no reason to talk dessert. With only one catfish “fix” per year, that’s what we fill up on.