I was halfway through making fried catfish poboys when I looked at the clock. 11:30. If I didn’t get lunch on the table by noon, my wife would have to leave the house hungry, and I would have failed as a husband, and as a man.
So I made fried catfish tacos.
I’ve gotten to the point in building a pantry and developing my kitchen skills that sometimes, SOMETIMES, I can make a pivot like that midway and still come out with a half-decent meal. When I switch gears out of necessity, like when I realize a vital ingredient is missing, things usually turn out okay. When I pivot because I’m bored, and suddenly conceive a much more interesting meal, I’m generally destined to fail.
I had to make the switch from poboys to catfish tacos because my bread, which was a sifted whole wheat, no-knead baguette with oil style that I had pretty much completely made up, still needed to rise.
Catfish tacos might be a slightly more trouble than you want to get into, but if you have an hour or so to get supper ready, it’s a worthy endeavor. They taste pretty damn good, and the process of managing three different elements—deep fried catfish, griddled tortillas, and slaw—can improve your kitchen skills without being too taxing.
WHY CATFISH TACOS?
Ever since reading Possum Living, I’ve been obsesses with (among other things) fishing. With all the rivers and ponds around the Kansas City area, it seems like fishing would be a great way to add some cheap sustainable protein to the regular rotation.
Between the ages of five and twelve, I went fishing A LOT. In the summer, my mom would just drop me off at the park and leave me there for most of the day. (It’s okay, I wasn’t in any danger; I had a pocket knife.) I’d thread a worm on a hook, toss it out on the water with a red and white bobber, lean against a tree with a book, and lose myself for a few hours.
I caught some bluegill. A turtle or two, sadly. And about a metric ton of catfish.
I wasn’t even going for catfish. I was using a classic bluegill setup. By all rights, the catfish should have been on the bottom, far below my little worm and bobber.
But catfish are hungry. And stupid. And everywhere in America.
They’re also tasty as hell.
I haven’t been fishing since I read Possum Living, but Price Chopper had frozen catfish nuggets on sale for $1.50 a pound, so I’m not complaining.
MAKING CATFISH TACOS
I was worried about deep frying the catfish. The only deep frying I’ve done before is fried chicken, and that was a messy, several-hour ordeal that ended with a half gallon of dirty grease being poured past my back fence, because I didn’t know what to do with it. This time, the deep frying was easy as hell, with simple cleanup. If you’re scared of deep frying, fried catfish is a good place to start figuring it out.
I spread the frozen catfish nuggets in a single layer on a glass casserole pan and thawed them in the microwave. After sopping up the liquid with a few paper towels, I sprinkled them on both sides with salt and pepper, then threw some blue cornmeal in there and moved them all around until they were nice and covered.
My big cast iron dutch oven is made for deep frying. I heated up a few inches of canola oil to 350° (USE A THERMOMETER!) and carefully dropped the catfish nuggets into the oil four at a time. I didn’t even set a timer, I just let them go until they started to look browned, then took them out and drained them on some paper towels.
Cleanup was easier than I anticipated; I let the oil cool, then put a big strainer with a couple of paper towels on top of a quart measuring cup, then just poured the oil through and funneled the clean oil back into the bottle.
The tortillas were easy, I covered that months ago.
Making the slaw took a tiny bit of elbow grease, but not much. I sliced a half a (small) head of cabbage very thin, grated a carrot, and added salt, celery seed, white wine vinegar, and a bit of mayonnaise.
Catfish tacos. Damn good. Sriracha made them even better. Maybe poboys can happen next time.
- 12 corn tortillas (see note)
- 1 quart canola or vegetable oil
- 2 lbs catfish nuggets or filets
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 head of cabbage, sliced thin (about 2 cups)
- 1 carrot, grated
- 1/4 tsp celery seed
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
- salt and pepper
- Put the quart of oil in a large pot or dutch oven and heat to 350°.
- Dry the catfish with paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides, and dredge in cornmeal, shaking off excess.
- When the oil is hot, fry the catfish in batches until it is browned (about five minutes). Remove to paper towels to drain.
- In a large bowl, mix the cabbage, carrot, and a few pinches of salt. Squeeze the mixture with your hands for a minute or two, then add the remaining slaw ingredients and mix well.
- Break the catfish into bite-size pieces, add it onto the tortillas with the slaw, and serve with sriracha.
- Fresh corn tortillas - http://feralcuisine.com/get-tortillas-bonus-video/