That’s right. Twenty-three years ago today, President Ronald Regan designated this day as National Catfish Day. Granted, the government was recognizing “farm-raised” catfish specifically, but I see no problem in extending the parameters of the occasion to include, er, wild catfish.
I was thrilled when I learned about his “holiday” because I don’t think there’s one fish–freshwater or saltwater–that I like better than catfish. What this fish lacks in looks, it more than compensates for with flavor. And next to chicken, it’s probably the most delicious thing on earth when fried.
Speaking of fried catfish, several years ago the magazine’s Wild Chef columnist, Jonathan Miles, traveled to Oxford, Miss., and wrote a story about the legendary catfish-and-barbeque joint, Taylor Grocery. In honor of National Catfish Day, we’ve included the restaurant’s signature fried catfish recipe below.
It’s unlikely that I’ll have the time (or the fillets) to cook this recipe at home tonight, as much as I’d like to. But there is a restaurant near the office that has a catfish sandwich on the menu that I’ve been meaning to try. So that’s how I plan to celebrate.
How about you? Will you cook some catfish in honor of this historic day? Even if you don’t have some fillets on hand, let’s at least hear about the best catfish recipe you’ve ever enjoyed.
Whole Fried Catfish with Green Onions and “Dickey Sauce”
This, folks, is the real deal: deep-fried catfish as it’s served at Taylor Grocery. “Dickey sauce” is nothing more than tartar sauce, but some Oxford locals privately renamed it in memory of the late poet and novelist James Dickey (Deliverance), who once dined at Taylor Grocery. When small bowls of tartar sauce were brought to the table, Dickey–famed for his formidable whiskey consumption–grabbed a spoon and lapped up all the sauce in his bowl. “That,” he announced, putting down his spoon, “was the best soup I’ve ever eaten.” –Jonathan Miles
4 Mississippi pond-raised or wild catfish, skinned and deheaded (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
2 quarts peanut oil
3/4 cup Miracle Whip
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup pickle relish
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Dickey Sauce: In a medium bowl, fold together the Miracle Whip, mayonnaise, relish, onion, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate it until ready to use.
Catfish: Combine the eggs, Worcestershire, hot sauce, and milk together in a large bowl and beat it until frothy. In a shallow dish large enough to contain the fish, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, and lemon pepper.
With a small knife, score both sides of the catfish four times across, deeply, about 11/2 inches apart. Dip the catfish into the egg wash, then dredge it completely with the cornmeal mixture, evenly coating the fish; set it aside.
In a large pot or deep fryer, heat the oil to 325 degrees. Add the fish–one at a time for whole fish (if using fillets, two at a time)–and cook 7-8 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Remove and place on paper towels to drain. Serve with scallions and Dickey sauce.