Fried Catfish with Pecan Sauce

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One of my earliest childhood memories is catching hideous catfish in the Catawba River outside Charlotte, North Carolina, watching my grandfather and mother clean the fish and fry them in a huge cast-iron skillet, and eating them with coleslaw, hush puppies, and, by all means, ketchup. Of course, catfish was considered “common” in those days, and I still snicker today when I read about the sweet fish being so fashionable in restaurants or watch trendy chefs preparing and saucing it as if it were Dover sole. Although pond cultivation of catfish began in Arkansas, the Mississippi Delta is now the major producer, supplying the national markets with no less than 250 million pounds annually and elevating the lowly fish to a lofty status unheard of just twenty years ago. Fortunately, catfish is one fish that remains as white, firm, and sweet when frozen as when fresh. Fried catfish served with nothing but a few squeezes of lemon or ketchup, or crusted with ground cornmeal and pecans, is still as popular with Southerners as when I was a boy. For a more updated and sophisticated dish, serve the fish with this buttery pecan sauce.

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Ingredients

The Sauce

  • ½ cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce to taste

The Catfish

  • 1 cup white cornmeal
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds fresh catfish fillets, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Method

To make the sauce, in a bowl combine all the ingredients and stir till well blended.

To make the catfish, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper on a plate and mix well. Dredge the catfish fillets in the mixture and place on another plate.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat about ¼ inch of oil over moderate heat and, in batches if necessary, fry the fillets about 5 minutes on each side or till nicely browned. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, spoon a little sauce over each fillet and serve hot.

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