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    Thursday, May 30, 2024

    Fried catfish tacos a tasty use for the invasive fish

    Fishing season begins soon in the Washington, Maryland and Virginia area, and though I’m not an angler, a few readers tipped me off to a distressing situation in the Chesapeake Bay. “It would be wonderful if your column would post recipes for using blue catfish, which is local, sustainable and taking over the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” Kathy Tillman of Columbia, Md., wrote. “If everyone in the area consumed catfish it would help the bay!”

    According to the Chesapeake Bay program, “blue catfish and its cousin, the flathead catfish, were introduced into Virginia waters by the state several decades ago to establish a recreational fishery. Since that time, these large, long-lived fish have expanded throughout much of the Chesapeake Bay region.”

    Because catfish live longer, multiply rapidly, grow large enough to consume a variety of prey and adapt easily to different environments, they’re negatively affecting the ecosystem of local waters, causing declines in native species by as much as 91 percent, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Striped bass, shad, herring, Atlantic sturgeon, blue crab and more local species are affected. In March, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore asked the federal government to declare the expanding population of blue catfish, flathead catfish and snakehead a commercial fishery disaster.

    My local grocers and fishmongers carry blue catfish, so I decided to buy some and play around with it in the kitchen. Catfish fillets are firm and white, larger than tilapia and more iridescent than cod, but just as easy to cook. The flavor is rather mild, a little like rockfish or striped bass. It’s nice fried in butter with capers and lemon zest. It stays moist when covered in mustard and dill and roasted. But I liked it most when I fried it Southern-style — dunked in buttermilk, dredged in a seasoned cornmeal and flour mixture and fried it until crisp.

    You could certainly do that with whole catfish fillets, but I decided to turn my Southern-style fried catfish nuggets into tacos. A cabbage and radish slaw, with lots of lime juice and cilantro, gives these tacos extra crunch. Ripe avocado offers a creamy contrast to the fried fish, and a squeeze of lime perks up each bite.

    Catfish Tacos With Radish Slaw

    Total time: 40 minutes

    Servings: 2-3

    These extra-crispy fish tacos call for catfish, but any firm white fish works well. A buttermilk soak adds tang, and cornmeal in the dredging mixture delivers crunch. Cajun or Creole seasoning gives the fish some heat, as does a splash of hot sauce. Stuff the fried fish into warm tortillas with a colorful cabbage slaw, a few slices of ripe avocado, and cilantro. Add a squeeze of fresh lime, if you like.

    Storage: Refrigerate the slaw for up to 4 days.


    For the fish

    1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

    1 tablespoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco, Frank’s or Trappey’s

    1/3 cup all-purpose flour

    1/4 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal

    1 tablespoon Cajun or Creole seasoning

    1/2 pound skinless catfish fillets, rinsed and patted dry

    Neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed

    For the slaw

    3 ounces small red cabbage (about 1-1/2 cups) shredded or thinly sliced

    4 small red radishes, thinly sliced

    4 stems fresh cilantro, finely chopped, plus more for serving

    Finely grated zest and juice of 2 limes, plus more lime wedges for serving

    Fine salt (optional)

    1 Pinch granulated sugar

    For the tacos

    6 (6-inch) tortillas, preferably flour, warmed

    1 ripe avocado, preferably Hass, sliced


    Step 1

    Line a baking sheet or plate with a clean paper bag or towels and place it near the stove.

    Step 2

    In a medium bowl, stir together the buttermilk and hot sauce until combined.

    Step 3

    In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and Cajun or Creole seasoning.

    Step 4

    Cut the catfish into 14 to 16 nugget-size pieces. Transfer to the bowl with the buttermilk and, using tongs, toss the fish so all the pieces are coated. Set aside while you make the slaw.

    Step 5

    In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage, radishes, cilantro, lime zest and juice, a pinch of salt, if using, and a pinch of sugar and toss to combine. Set aside while you cook the fish.

    Step 6

    Using tongs or a clean hand, transfer the buttermilk-coated fish to the bowl with the cornmeal mixture, and toss until each piece is well coated. It may seem like there’s not enough breading, but there will be just enough.

    Step 7

    Add enough oil to a 12-inch cast-iron skillet to come 1/2-inch up the sides. Set over medium-high heat until the oil temperature reaches 360 degrees or a pinch of flour added to the oil sizzles instantly.

    Step 8

    Working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding, add the catfish and fry on one side until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces over and continue cooking until evenly brown on the other side, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain an even temperature, another 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked catfish to the lined baking sheet or plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining catfish, if needed.

    Step 9

    Divide the warmed tortillas between plates and add 2 or 3 pieces of catfish to each. Top with about 3 tablespoons of the slaw, a few slices of avocado and a few leaves of cilantro. Serve, with lime wedges on the side.

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