Q: Chef, with our church’s annual fish fry coming around, my family and I always leave wondering how they get that great seasoning and keep the breading on the fish. When I try to do it at home, it always burns on the outside and the breading seems to never stick. Please help me.
A: While fish fries during Lent have been a long tradition, seasoning and sides have varied over time. The consistency in almost all of them is corn. Cornmeal is used in most every recipe I have ever seen. I have a recipe that is a little different, created from a blending of the two cultures that bind my family: It starts with home-style flavors from my Southern roots and finishes with warming spices from my wife’s hometown of Tamazula, Mexico. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as we do.
BREADED CATFISH FILETS
1 lb. catfish filets Vegetable oil for frying (depending on pan, use enough to have fish floating when it is frying)
4 c all-purpose flour
2 c cornmeal, medium ground
4 T corn starch
2 T granulated garlic
2 T dry, ground oregano
3 T ground chipotle pepper
3 T lime juice
2 T salt
1 T black pepper
1 c soda water
DIRECTIONS: Cut catfish into equal portions so the fish will cook evenly. Set aside. Heat the oil to medium high. (Note: If the oil begins to smoke turn to down to medium heat. Temperature should be 350 degrees).
In a mixing bowl, blend all dry ingredients. Add lime juice and soda water until it has the consistency of pancake batter. Adjust soda water as needed. (Note: You just made a tempura batter!)
Dip each piece of fish into the batter and drop into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown. You may have to turn the fish over while it is in the oil to cook properly on both sides.
Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain.
I serve mine with a vinegar-based slaw and cheddar cheese cornbread. The smoke flavor and spice from the chipotles really go well with the lime and give it a little kick.
Chef John Johnson is River City Casino executive chef. Do you have a recipe request for Chef John? Email him at John.Johnson@rivercity.com.