Hot Catfish with Dill Pickle Ranch
Heading south on the historic Mississippi Blues Trail to the Southern Foodways Alliance meeting in Jackson this summer, we drove right through the heart of the Mississippi Delta catfish industry. Apparently, we’ve been taking our U.S. farm-raised catfish for granted. Katy Simmons Prosser of Simmons Farm Raised Catfish in Yazoo City, says the industry has shrunk dramatically in the last decade. A drive through the Delta is bittersweet to her because so many ponds have been dried up and converted to other crops. Her father started Simmons Catfish back in the 1970s and remains an industry leader, but many have been forced out due to increased feed and production costs, while cheap imported species like basa and swai from countries like China and Vietnam flood the market.
Real American catfish must be labeled as so, is raised under strict guidelines, and is still a bargain at less than $8.00 per pound. Here’s yet another reminder to consumers to read labels carefully and buy local. Look for the new Delacata style catfish fillets, a prime cut with a thick meaty flake similar to grouper, that takes well to the grill, the sauté pan or the deep fryer.
We’ve been playing around with Hot Catfish with Dill Pickle Ranch, loosely inspired by Nashville Hot Chicken. It makes a terrific spicy appetizer accompanied by icy cold beer.
- For the catfish:
- 2 pounds U.S. farm-raised catfish fillets, cut diagonally into 1 ½-inch strips
- 4 to 6 ounces bottled hot pepper sauce (use the brand with the heat level you prefer)
- 1 to 1 ½ cups self-rising cornmeal mix
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Salt, to taste
- Lemon wedges and pickled hot pepper rings, optional
- For the Dill Pickle Ranch:
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
- ½ cup chopped dill pickles
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed into a paste with a knife
- Black pepper, to taste
For the Catfish:
Combine the catfish and hot sauce in a sealable plastic bag. Marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Place the cornmeal in a shallow bowl. Roll the catfish pieces in the cornmeal and allow to rest a few minutes to “dry” so the cornmeal adheres well.
Heat about 2 to 3 inches (or more in a deep fryer) in a heavy pot or deep skillet to 365° F.
Fry a few pieces of fish at a time (don’t crowd the pan) until golden brown on all sides and cooked through. Cooking time should be about 3 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness. Test for doneness by piercing the thickest part of the fish with the tip of a knife. The center should be opaque and the flesh will flake easily.
Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs to a paper towel covered tray and season with salt, as desired. Serve with Dill Pickle Ranch and lemon wedges.
For the Dill Pickle Ranch:
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.