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Blues isn’t the only good thing that came out of the southern USA. They have some pretty good grub down there too! On a drive through Mississippi forests (on one of Max’s research expeditions) he arrived at Taylor, Mississippi, a little old country town that just ‘happens’ along the meandering highway. The Taylor Grocery and Restaurant is the only eating place there. It’s pretty basic decoration-wise and has an old-world charm all of it’s own; the walls (and ceiling!) feature graffiti of past visitors. Described as a “genuine country store with a tin roof and wooden sidewalk (verandah) and gas pumps out front” by one writer (“Southern Food” by John Egerton, published by Alfred A Knopf Inc. 1987). Taylor’s is justifiably mentioned in a National Geographic magazine as a famous catfish restaurant. Max sampled their speciality; catfish with hush puppies, a classic dish in the South, akin to the popularity of fish and chips in the UK. So now we bring you this catfish recipe, one of the oldest and simplest.
Select fresh catfish, whole or fillets; wash well in cold water and pat completely dry with paper towels. This recipe is for fillets, preferred because they are easier to clean, fry and eat; allow about ½ pound per person.
In a heavy iron skillet (or frying pan) melt enough lard or shortening to reach a depth of ½ to 1 inch.
Rub the fish with salt and black pepper and coat with white cornmeal, shaking off the excess.
When the fat in the skillet is hot (but not smoking), lay the pieces of fish in gently (spaced so as not to touch) and fry for about 4 minutes, or until they are crisp and well browned on the bottom side.
Turn carefully and fry to the same crispness on the other side.
Then lift the pieces out carefully and drain on a platter covered with absorbent paper.
An ample supply of lemon wedges will provide ideal seasoning, though most people prefer tartar, hot pepper, or catsup-based sauces.
Now for the other half of the dish. A hush puppy is “a deep fried ball of cornmeal batter and seasonings that become an all-parts companion of fried fish”. Some accounts say the name came from Florida “…in the general vicinity of St. Marks (the term being what camp cooks supposedly shouted to the barking hounds when they tossed them batter-ball scraps from the fish skillets)”
In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of self-raising white cornmeal, ½ cup of self-raising flour, ½ teaspoonful of salt, and 1 teaspoonful of sugar (or use regular meal and flour with the salt and sugar and add ½ teaspoonful each of baking powder and baking soda).
Blend in 1 egg and add enough buttermilk (up to one cup) to produce a thick batter that will drop slowly but easily from a teaspoon. (finely minced green onion and garlic, black or red pepper, or a few drops of hot pepper sauce may be added to suit your taste).
To make golf ball sized pups, drop teaspoonfuls of the batter into fat that is hot enough and deep enough for the morsels to float (about 375° and 3 inches respectively).
Fry to a golden brown and drain on absorbent paper, keep8ing the cooked ones warm in a 150° oven until ready to serve with a platter of fish. The recipe makes about 2 dozen or more hush puppies.
Both recipes are from “Southern Food” by John Egerton, published by Alfred A Knopf Inc. 1987.