So we've already established that the best eggplant is a free eggplant. So what do you think is the best possible catfish? That's right - free catfish! In this case, the catfish was a gift to us from my wife's parents, and had been caught earlier this summer on Lake Cumberland in Southern Kentucky not far from the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
We'd purchased some kale and I couldn't think of a better accompaniment to kale than some cornbread and the
free best catfish we had sitting in our freezer. It took a while to thaw out and I ended up knocking a couple chunks of ice off of the filets to get them defrosted and ready for cooking, but one night I had catfish, cornmeal, and kale all ready to be cooked up.
Why did I choose nuggets? Catfish filets are fine, but I have a fondness for finger foods, and catfish nuggets are just fun. Also, I had pieces of fish of varying thickness and shape, including thick, fluffy chunks and thin lean filets. Trying to get the filets timed correctly so none were undercooked or overdone would have been difficult.
A pair of scissors assisted me in cutting up the catfish into 1" chunks. That was probably the most difficult of all the steps in this recipe. It's dead simple, quick, and good for getting fish into picky eaters who see healthy food as a conspiracy. There's a little oil, sure, but keep the oil hot and light and you'll end up with nuggets that aren't greasy at all.
I haven't tried these on kids, but I suspect they'd probably like them. There's crunch, there's flavor, there's salt and grease - who wouldn't like a batch of catfish nuggets?
catfish filets, boneless, cut into 1" square chunks
cornmeal in a plastic bag - ziplock style, not grocery
enough milk to cover the chunked catfish
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
2" light vegetable oil in a saucepan or skillet, plus additional oil for replacement
Not a lot of measurements there, eh? You can use this recipe to make as much catfish as you like or as you have, so I have not constrained the proportions. I'll tell you what I had and what I made.
We started with four catfish filets of varying sizes and shapes. I used about 1/2 cup of cornmeal. You don't need much, just enough to coat the chunks.
Soak the chunks of catfish in milk for at least ten minutes to get out any fishy taste. The fresher your catfish, the less you'll need to soak the chunks.
Pat the catfish dry and place half of it in a bag with a mix of cornmeal, pepper, and cayenne to taste. I used about 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne in my mix. Seal the plastic bag and shake to coat the catfish nuggets. Remove the catfish, add more cornmeal and seasonings if necessary and repeat with the second half of the catfish.
Heat the oil until a sprinkle of cornmeal in the oil sizzles.
Carefully introduce some of the catfish to the hot oil and fry until it is golden brown and delicious, about two minutes. Don't crowd the pieces of catfish - leave a 1/2 inch at least between nuggets.
Flip the nuggets if necessary to make sure both sides get cooked well. Try one to make sure the fish is cooked through. If it isn't, give them more time until they are cooked through.
Remove the fish to a paper towel and blot briefly to remove excess oil. Salt the fish to taste immediately. Keep warm and finish the other batches of catfish.
Serve with greens and cornbread.