Catfish

Catfish are either wild-caught or farmed. Crisp-fried wild ones deliver meat that can be as plush as prime steak. They also radiate freshwater sparkle that evokes vacation campfires and balmy summer nights. Farmed cats can be quite alright – mild and polite, receptive to such character-building treatments as blackening and Cajun-spicing. But they’re no comparison to wild ones, which are a jewel of sleeves-up gastronomy throughout Texas, Oklahoma, the South, and the southern Midwest. It is common in these areas to serve catfish AYCE, meaning All You Can Eat. At Whitey’s Fish Camp in Orange Park, Florida, each plateful holds one or two big ones and two or three little ones. The tiniest are so fragile that experienced diners eat even the tender rib bones, leaving nothing but vertebrae. Big ones, with a skeleton that demands respect, provide supremely easy access to meat. Simply poke the tines of a fork through the sandy cornmeal girdle just below the backbone, then pull downward. A nice mouthful slips cleanly off the ribs.For those who abjure such surgery, catfish comes filleted, which is easier to eat but arguably less succulent. Middendorf’s restaurant of Akers, Louisiana is known for its trademark “thin catfish,” which is sliced into a diaphanous strip that is lightly breaded and quickly fried. It crunches when you sink your teeth into crust as sheer and brittle as a potato chip. Thin catfish is mild-flavored, benefiting greatly from a dip in horseradish hot sauce.

Restaurants With This Dish

Fratesi Grocery and Service Center

LELAND, MS

Charlie’s Fish Market

AIKEN, SC

Chef Bob’s Café

EDGEFIELD, SC

Alcenia’s

MEMPHIS, TN

Ruth’s Family Restaurant

AUGUSTA, GA

Greenbrier Restaurant

MADISON, AL

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