Friday, April 3, 2009

Fish Fry for Two


I told Ric I was a little nervous about this experiment, because catfish is one of his Mom's meals. You know, one of those meals, the ones he grew up on. So simple, and so straight forward, yet so easy to screw up. That kind of meal! Also, the type of meal that doesn't really have a recipe or measurements, except for the hush puppies.

He happened to be on the phone with her while I was in the kitchen, so I managed to pick up a little advice while I was cooking. Since I was going to have to cook in batches, not having an amazing restaurant style "fry" kitchen, she advised to cook the french fries first, then the hush puppies. She also suggested getting out a jelly roll pan, setting a cooling rack on it, and using it to keep the french fries warm in a 250 degree oven--her solution for not ending up with soggy fries while everything else cooks. And to salt the fried food immediately after it came out of the oil.

Her method for catfish was a virtual mirror image of the one I had found in an African American cookbook from the 1960s (The Ebony Cookbook, by Freda DeKnight): salt and pepper the catfish, rub on a little mustard (you're supposed to let it sit for awhile, preferably overnight according to the cookbook--of course, I didn't prepare that far in advance), dunk in buttermilk, and dredge in cornmeal.


Like my mother-in-law I use the bread test, rather than a thermometer to test my oil. Which I found more scientifically laid out in that same old cookbook:

360 degrees -- When an inch cube of bread becomes golden brown in 60 seconds.
375 degrees -- When an inch cube of bread becomes golden brown in 40 seconds.
395 degrees -- When an inch cube of bread becomes golden brown in 20 to 25 seconds.

For the fish I used about 1/4 cup of Crisco to fry in. For the fries and hushpuppies I filled my enamelled cast iron Dutch oven a couple inches with vegetable oil and added a 1/4 cup Crisco. The Crisco has more saturated fat and results in a crisper, more golden exterior. I didn't have any old oil on hand, but I'm saving a little from this batch of frying (after it cools, I'll strain it and throw it in a ziploc up in the freezer). Supposedly a little old oil added to new oil has better results.


I heated up the oil in the Dutch oven until an inch cube of bread was golden in 40 seconds (375 degrees) and dumped in one of the two potatoes I had sliced. It's important not to crowd the food so it cooks evenly.


I used tongs to pull the fries out and lay on the rack on top of the jelly roll pan. I sprinkled with salt and my secret weapon--ichimi togarashi. Chili pepper ground fine like black pepper. I get mine at a Korean market that sells a lot of Japanese products.


The fries went in the 250 degree oven.

After I did the second batch of fries, I started the fish. My plan was to cook the fish and the hush puppies at the same time.

I used 4 fillets of catfish. If you'll remember, I salt and peppered them and spread on a little mustard. Since I hadn't planned my menu 24 hours out, they hadn't been sitting in their rub overnight, but I did make sure I did the rub first before I started anything else, so they'd probably been coated for about an hour.


I started cooking the Crisco really hot--probably closer to the 20 to 25 second cube of bread test this time (395 degrees). The Crisco heats up really fast. When it was ready I dunked two of the pieces of fish in the buttermilk and then dredged them in cornmeal. I only cooked them two at a time so a not to overcrowd (the batches joined the fries in the oven).



While the first batch of fish was frying I started the hushpuppies. These are not the pretty round hush puppies from Long John Silvers! I used a tablespoon to dish the batter into the french fry oil in clumps . . blobs . . . misshapen little mounds.


I have to be honest -- I wasn't so impressed with the recipe I found for the hushpuppies. They were perfectly edible and there were plenty leftover that we'll be eating with barbequed fish this week. Next time I'm thinking about trying this one because it is pretty simplistic, has a lot more onion than the one I tried, and the buttermilk sounds yummy.

I had a pretty full oven by the time I got to the end.

And a pretty picnic plate.

And I'm happy to report, a happy husband.


  1. it looks good, I didn't think you ate fried food for some reason! Like the photo's on the side I don't know what the bush is with the white flowers.

  2. Everything is good in moderation! :)

  3. And here I thought it was the catfish that kept you guys from taking us up on our catfish dinner invite. The recipe I'm using is from Martin Yan's cookbook and uses a garlic-ginger Balsamic vinegar sauce on pan sauteed catfish. served with rice or noodles and steamed veggies. I can send you the recipe if you're interested.

  4. I think it was my work schedule! :)

    Yeah, go ahead and send it to me!

  5. After all that hard work he should be happy! That looks delicious, thanks for sharing your tips.