Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Kind of Catfish is That?

I don't often get stumped by customer questions, but this one set me back. Recently, we've been serving Blue Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish with Shrimp and Ham Gumbo, as a break from more exotic fish and because of customer requests for catfish. I told the customer, "I think it's channel cat, but I'm not sure." Species I was unclear on, but I was certain that it was farmed in Tennessee.

Checking in with The Catfish Institute reveals that, yes, the vast majority of catfish farmed in the United States is channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) harvested between 18 months and two years at one to two pounds.

I'm glad that customers are asking for it. There was a time when people regarded catfish as a trash fish and I have certainly had plenty of wild caught catfish that was not worth eating. But all that has changed. With advances in aquaculture, farmed cat is consistently good product, inexpensive and very tasty, consistently mild and a touch sweet. Plus the relatively high oil content makes it fairly hard to overcook making it a great fish for home cooks.

And it's a great answer to the eternal question, "What's for dinner?" My kids love it when I rub catfish with Old Bay seasoning and throw it on the grill. The touch of grill smoke makes the catfish irresistable and it's hard to keep the kids (not to mention the adults) away from it. It might work for your kids too. I've made myself hungry, so I guess there's no choice but to head to the kitchen to grill a piece of catfish!

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