I remember camping on the Peace River in Brownsville, just north of Arcadia. We would always fish for catfish and use chicken livers as bait. My brother Tommy and I would complain to Dad about the livers always coming off our hooks when we would cast it as far as possible. He’d tell us that we were casting it too hard — just try to toss the bait rather than sling it. We weren’t very good at tossing it, so we complained again.
After too many complaints from us kids, Dad told us to go get Mom’s stockings and cut the toes off them. We put the liver inside the toes, twisted it up and put it on our hooks. Wow — we could cast it all the way across the river and it worked like a charm. However, Mom wasn’t happy when she put her stockings on and her toes were sticking out. Tommy and I got yelled at, but she laughed the same time wondering where we came up with this idea. She realized the source when she heard Dad chuckling in another room.
Enough about my childhood fish tales. Channel catfish are one of the most popular fish that anglers target in the United States. That’s partly because there so many of them in streams and lakes all over the country, and partly because they are a favorite table fish wherever they can be caught.
Channel cats are generally mild-flavored and are very good eating fried, baked or broiled. Being catfish, they do some scavenging, but they are also predators. Depending on where they live, their main diet may be fish or aquatic invertebrates such as crayfish and shrimp. Fish from flowing waters usually are better to eat. When fish live in stagnant water, they can take on a muddy flavor.
While catching your own is a great plan, if you don’t have the time (or a freshwater fishing license), you can buy farmed catfish. If you’re buying an American product, it’s almost certainly channel catfish. However, farmed catfish are grain-fed, and they taste very different from wild channel cats. Not necessarily bad — but not the same.
We grew up eating catfish from the Peace River. I still eat them when I get a chance to harvest a few of them. We were taught how to skin and clean them. Dad would fry them whole with cornmeal and Everglades seasoning, and we’d eat them right off them bone.
I still use the same basic recipe. I’ve upgraded my equipment to fry them in, but a high-sided iron skillet, fire and some hot oil still works is really all you need.
The recipe is simple with few ingredients. You could substitute the Everglades seasoning for your favorite blend, but Everglades is what we were taught to use. I haven’t changed the way Dad used to do it so many years ago, and I don’t think I ever will.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.
Fried Channel Catfish
4 whole half-pound channel catfish
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 whole eggs
2 cups of cornmeal
1.5 tbsp Everglades Seasoning
To remove the skin and fins from the catfish, make a cut all the way around the head by the pectoral fins and peel the skin back with a pair of fish-skinning pliers. Remove the head, guts and gills. Fill a large cast iron skillet halfway with cooking oil and preheat it to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk your eggs briskly. In another bowl, mix the cornmeal and Everglades seasoning together. Place the flour in a third bowl. Now dredge your whole fish in the flour, then the egg wash, and finally the seasoned cornmeal. Fry them for 2 minutes on each side. Serves 4.
— Recipe by Chef Tim Spain, ChefTimSpain.com