August is National Catfish Month and if you've turned up your nose at this surprisingly healthy (and easy to get fresh) fish, you're just being -- as my sorta-Southern mama would say -- uppity. Fried catfish is nearly as iconic as hush pups, sweet tea and pulled pork. Now the Catfish Institute is trying to dust off its second-class seafood image and go national. Fittingly enough, Iron Chef Cat Cora has signed on as its celebrity chef spokesperson. I haven't made any of her recipes but coconut catfish can never be a bad thing.
Catfish has long been a secret weapon in my cooking arsenal. I stopped telling people which fish they were eating until after the initial "Really?!" This is usually followed by a request for the recipe. My version (cobbled together from various sources) starts by marinating it in beer (Dixie would be appropriate, don't you think?) for 30 minutes, dredge in flour, cracker or cornmeal spiked with Zatarain's or another seafood seasoning mix, lay fillets in a medium-hot greased pan top-down, flip about 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of your fillet). You end up with a lightly zingy crust that melts into a firm white fish that has just a little bit of tang from behind the bar. Dress it up with cheese grits and cucumber salad or down with corn sticks and fried okra. Guess which I suggest? For hardcore fans, this recipe from Soul Food and Southern Cooking is a good place to start.