Today’s a good, hot June day where the best fishing trip you can make is to the freezer, where you grab a couple packs of fish fillets from back in the winter or spring and have a fish fry. With a cold glass of sweet tea under the back porch ceiling fan, of course.
Add in your favorites, from hushpuppies and fries to cole slaw, fried green tomatoes or potato salad. Just make sure to fry a few extra pieces of fish for the morning after. That brings us to one of the anomalies of the outdoor world.
There are two pretty well defined groups of fried fish eaters, and they rarely vary from their bearings on this one. There are those that only eat them hot, and those that only eat them any way they can get their hands on them — including cold. Put me in the latter camp. And I even go further than that.
I love a good chunk of cold fried fish on a fresh baked biscuit for breakfast.
Don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it. And if you have to heat it up, that’s ok, too. You won’t violate any of Julia Childs’ food etiquette rules. You can follow my lead and add a dab of cajun mustard, or some tartar sauce or just eat it plain. But please, no strawberry jelly.
Call it Biblical
You might even consider this meal Biblical.
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples (John 21) on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and gave them the miraculous power to catch a large amount of fish. Then, Jesus cooks some of the fish, along with some bread, and invites the disciples to join Him to “have breakfast.”
When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it, and some bread. There you have it. Fish biscuits.
There are lots of other catfish dishes, enough to rival Forrest Gump’s run on shrimp recipes.
There’s fried catfish fillets, whole fried catfish, fried catfish steaks, baked catfish, blackened catfish, grilled catfish, catfish etouffée, catfish courtbouillon (coo-boo-yon), catfish tacos and more. And that doesn’t even count the variations like crawfish or shrimp etouffée topped catfish, Asian catfish and the like.
I’ve had a lot of interesting encounters with fish preparation. I’ve never met a fish on my plate that I didn’t at least try. I got that honestly from Dad. Since Father’s Day is this month, I find it fitting to honor one of his unforgettable fish cooks.
My dad grew up during the Great Depression as one of eight kids, and yes, he did walk to school from his small two bedroom wood house near Ward Four in the woods near Grayson in Caldwell Parish. I’m not sure if it was ever barefoot in the snow or uphill both ways, but times weren’t easy back then. I still remember the joy in his story of when the family got enough money to get indoor plumbing and tear down the old outhouse. So, to get to the point, he didn’t waste anything on the old Caldwell Parish homestead. Ever.
He was a great cook on the grill and could fry fish with anybody. Back in the days when I was growing up, that fish was usually whole fried bream. That’s about all we had. Occasionally, we would venture out and set out trotlines and catch some fine catfish. I wonder what the poor people were eating?
What was even more rare was Mom letting Dad actually cook in her Forrest Avenue kitchen.
But one day, when she was gone and we had caught some catfish, he reverted to his Depression Era survival training. He had skinned and cut up six or eight good catfish for frying. He decided to save the heads. He cleaned them up real good and removed the eyes and gills. He made a thick milk gravy and seasoned it with salt and pepper (that’s all the seasoning we had in those days) and put the fish heads in to slowly stew.
Unfortunately, he went out back to move the water hose in the garden just a few minutes before Mom got home.
She walked in the kitchen, lifted the lid off her prized Copper Clad 1801 Revere Ware stock pot, took a big wooden spoon and gave it a stir. Up popped a whole catfish head. Trust me. It wasn’t even as good looking as you might picture. My memory goes blank at this point, probably because of the ensuing screams and mad dash to get the Lemon Bouquet Glade air freshener.
I have no further recollection of Dad ever taking part in indoor cooking. I don’t remember what the stew tasted like, but I’m sure we ate it, probably on some toasted heel pieces of Wonder Bread with a fresh summer garden tomato.
I even made catfish head stew one time in my college years. I offered some to my roommate and cousin, Charlie, but he said no. And for some reason, he suddenly moved back home for the rest of the week.
Wait, there’s more. I’m not the only one that thrives on these wonderful times.
Dad may have just been being frugal, but today, Catfish Head Stew is no joke. It’s a real thing in Louisiana. Just google it and you’ll find several examples. Or check out the folks at Sebastien’s West End Seafood in Opelousas. They serve it.
It’s reported that their recipe includes about 20 ingredients, starting with the catfish heads. The catfish are cleaned and undesirable parts like the eyes and the whiskers are removed, then it’s cooked up in a hot tomato gravy type roux and served over rice with French bread.
I’m not sure of the original source of “aaaaaiiiiiiieeeeeeeee,” the famous Louisiana expression of happiness, but it very well could have been the first person that tried a bowl of that.
Go catch you some catfish and Laissez les bon temps rouler.