Catfish egg rolls may sound strange. They might not sound appetizing. (The recipe does actually need some tweaking…) You’re probably wondering what the point of such an exercise might be. Why the catfish? Why the egg rolls? Why the untraditional combination of two relatively unremarkable foodstuffs, Josh?
The deal is that I seek to emulate the subsistence farmers and hunters of yore, the folks way back when who set down the roots of Irish cuisine and Indian and Ethiopian and Mexican, the people who took a handful of things and said, ‘Well, this is what we’ve got, because this is what grows here. What can we make for supper? And how can we make it not taste like the last ten suppers we’ve had, that have been made out of the same things?’
Around Kansas City and the midwest, catfish are all around. Wheat, too, is everywhere.
I got the basic idea and recipe for catfish egg rolls from Possum Living, in the part where Ms. Freed describes their subsistence fishing habits. The idea appeals to me because you use crumbled or flaked fish instead of whole filets; you can repurpose leftovers from fish you cooked for an earlier meal (thus Using The Whole Buffalo), or you can use fish that doesn’t take well to a filet presentation, like carp or other ‘trash fish’.
CATFISH EGG ROLLS: THE PROCESS
In Possum Living, Ms. Freed lays out the basic recipe for fish egg rolls the way she and her father made them, without giving a lot of specific measurements. I approve of this style heartily, because it forces us to rely on ourselves and develop our instincts instead of being a slave to a recipe. Would that I am someday brave enough to follow her example…
First, I steamed some catfish. I haven’t been fishing yet, but I got some frozen catfish nuggets from the supermarket for just $1.50 a pound the other week. Not having an actual steamer, I dropped a few of the nuggets into a small wire colander, put the colander into a pot of simmering water, and closed it up. I tested the catfish with a fork about twenty minutes later; when it flaked easily, I took it out and let it cool.
I wanted plenty of vegetable matter in the egg rolls, so I grated up some Daikon radish (I forget exactly why I had that around…) and a carrot. The catfish and grated vegetables all got thrown into a bowl and mixed and mashed with a fork. A pinch of salt, some grated ginger, a taste, some more salt, some pepper, a taste, some more ginger…
Cooking well = tasting a lot.
For the skins, Ms. Freed’s outline says to take a couple of cups of flour, add a pinch of salt and one or two eggs, add a little water, and mix until a stiff dough is formed. I sifted some whole wheat instead of using white flour. I added water about a tablespoon at a time, making sure to mix thoroughly before adding any more. The dough was very shaggy at first, but did eventually come together after a bit of kneading.
Rolling it out was a bitch. I don’t have a rolling pin; instead, I use a wine bottle. But even if I did have a rolling pin, I suspect that this dough would have been hell. I wanted to roll it almost pasta-thin, like the egg roll skins you see in the store, but it was taking so long I finally gave up. I can deal with a thick skin.
First, I tried cutting square sheets of the dough and rolling up the filling in a classic egg roll style. Very quickly, I realized I didn’t know what I was doing, and my hands were all doughy and fishy so I didn’t want to search for proper egg roll rolling technique online. So I just squished the dough around the filling and crimped it to form crude dumplings.
The Crude Dumplings would be a good band name.
Into the 350° oil, which has been heating up this whole time. How do you know you haven’t sufficiently sealed an egg roll? When it starts hissing and spitting like a cat on fire.
I drained the catfish egg rolls on paper towels and whipped up a quick dipping sauce, just vinegar and sriracha and soy sauce and honey. Once again, much tasting and adjusting.
And there they were. Catfish egg rolls, in all their bottom-feeding deep-fried glory.
WHAT I WOULD CHANGE
I’ll be the first to say that these catfish egg rolls were not surprisingly delicious; they were not bad. And that’s okay! Not every meal has to be this fantastically orgasmic flavor experience.
Why didn’t I craft and perfect this recipe before I handed it to you? Two reasons: A) I don’t want to put food on some unrealistic pedestal. Most meals are not going to look like that perfect Pinterest photo, or taste like you got them at a Michelin starred restaurant. Food is something we need every day, I don’t want the expectation of perfection to keep anybody from trying to eat better, more sustainable food. B) I don’t have the time or money to do intensive recipe development. I’m posting what I’m making for supper, and sometimes it turns out great, and sometimes not. This whole blog is a process that I want you to be a part of, not some shining example of what everybody else should be doing.
What would I change with my catfish eggrolls?
I would up the seasoning on the filling. I had thought that a subtler flavor for the filling would be a good contrast to the spicy dipping sauce, but the filling just got overwhelmed. I’m thinking a good bit more ginger, more black pepper, and maybe some garlic as well.
The filling was also pretty wet and watery. I think that next time I try this, I’ll drain the catfish and vegetables on paper towels for at least a few minutes.
Next up, I need the wrappers thinner. If I continue to roll them out by hand, catfish egg rolls are going to be a long, intense process. But if I got some mechanical way to roll the dough out very thin, maybe some kind of… pasta machine…
More on that as it develops.
I bet that with a punchier filling and a thinner, crispier skin, catfish egg rolls could go from ‘Pretty okay’ to ‘Goddam that’s good.’
- 1 lb catfish nuggets
- 1/2 cup grated daikon radish
- 1/3 cup grated carrot
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- salt and pepper
- 2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted of large bran
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1/4 cup sriracha hot sauce
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1 quart neutral oil for frying
- In a saucepan with a steamer or metal colander that fits inside, bring a couple of inches of water to a boil, add the catfish, and close the pan. Steam until the catfish flakes easily, about twenty minutes. Remove the catfish and drain on a paper towel.
- In a large bowl, mix the catfish and the remaining filling ingredients. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
- Mix the dough ingredients by hand until a stiff dough is formed. Roll out the dough until it is as thin as you can make it, then cut into 4-inch squares. Roll out the remaining dough scraps to cut more skins.
- Fill the skins with two tablespoons of the filling, then roll the skin around the filling and crimp well to seal the filling inside.
- Fry in 350° oil, then drain on paper towels.
- Whisk together the sauce ingredients and serve with the eggrolls.