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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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catfish the name given to a large number of fish in more than two dozen different families, both freshwater and marine, which share the characteristic of having barbels like cats’ whiskers. They typically have a somewhat flattened head and a scaleless skin. This last point means that they cannot be eaten by observant Jews (not a serious deprivation in biblical times, since the ones which are best as food are mostly found at distances of 5,000 to 10,000 miles from the Holy Land).

Perhaps the most renowned catfish, from the cook’s point of view, are the group in the family Ictaluridae of N. America, especially Ictalurus furcatus, the blue catfish (or Mississippi cat, as it is sometimes called) of the southern USA and the channel catfish, which ranges from way up north down to Florida and the north of Mexico. Their maximum lengths are respectively 1.5 m (5') and 1.2 m (4'), so both are large fishes and of great commercial value. In the southern states catfish fillets are usually dredged in cornmeal and fried, to be served with hush puppy and coleslaw.