Thursday, January 31, 2008

Small Town Living Features Catfish

Small Town Living Magazine's Feb/March 2008 issue is out, and it features an article (written by ???) about farm-raised catfish got its start in the U.S. and how it has impacted my hometown of Greensboro, Alabama.

There are catfish recipes too, some of which I have shared on this blog and some which are new.
They were contributed by hometown folks who have been cooking catfish for a long time.

This huge, 60-page edition, includes lots of other interesting articles and how-to ideas.

Surf on over to and check it out. It's published by none other than the wonderfully creative Garden Goose and her talented husband Paul.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Catfish Mediterranean

New Year’s Eve…out with the old, in with the new!

It’s that time of year when we evaluate priorities, make resolutions and vow to stay with them through at least the next 365 days.

That’s just what Jim and Karen Weir did back before the new Millennium. As Jim prepared to retire from his career as an airline pilot, he thought about the family home place in Central Alabama. It was an 1880s, Queen Anne farmhouse that had fallen into disrepair, but he and Karen craved family connection.

“Our main reason for moving here was establishing roots for our grandchildren,” Karen said. “I never had that, because my family moved a lot.” Plus, she really liked the countryside around Gastonburg, a Wilcox County hamlet right in the middle of Catfish Country!

So Jim, the pilot/Air Tran owner/plus part-time dentist, and Karen, the architectural designer, moved here from Miami in 2000, re-did the house and soon became active in local culture. That included membership in Arts Revive and Master Gardeners, work as a volunteer museum guide and adjusting taste buds to different cuisine.

The fish they previously cooked and ate came from the Caribbean. “We had our first catfish here in Alabama,” Karen noted. “We ate the typical catfish, hushpuppies, coleslaw thing, and since I’m a cook, I started using catfish in interesting recipes. My husband loves Italian, so I concocted recipes that normally use chicken in a simmered sauce with pasta.”

The result was Karen’s Catfish Mediterranean recipe. It’s similar to chicken cacciatore and quite tasty, especially the second day. She cuts the fish into chunks so the fish holds up well in the sauce. “Catfish is a very neutral fish. You can use it in almost anything, and almost any recipe where you use chicken, you can use catfish,” she said.

Meanwhile, Jim found an after-retirement job flying Bonnie Plant Farm jets to locations around the U.S., and Karen began painting and displaying her artwork. They own a small plane as well and use it to visit friends and relatives who live too far away for easy travel by highway. Karen also designed an antique farm tools display along Alabama Highway 5. So if you are ever down that road, look for the sign that says “Gastonburg.” The mule-driven farm implements are nearby.

Oh yes, one of Karen's favorite drives is by the catfish ponds on Highway 5 when the mist rises off the water in the morning or when the sunset glows upon it in the evening.

Here’s Karen’s recipe.


Serves 6

3-4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
6 medium catfish fillets cut into 2" x 2" pieces
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 cleaned medium carrots, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
2 cans "Italian style" diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups consommé or water
1 cup button mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/2 cup black olives, chopped
Basil, oregano, lemon juice, kosher salt, ground pepper to taste

Fry diced bacon until crisp. Remove onto paper towels. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon grease, and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook onion, garlic, carrots, celery and ground pepper until soft. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, consommé (or water) and stir well. Add catfish pieces and simmer gently until done (until fish flakes) and sauce slightly thickens. Add olives, mushrooms and seasonings, and simmer for several more minutes. Taste to correct seasoning. Add crispy bacon last.

Serve over angel hair pasta with large salad and crusty bread (and a glass of wine?)

(Note) This is just as good over rice, and we also liked it on the second day. I did not use mushrooms, so my photo won’t look exactly like Karen’s dish.

PHOTO: Catfish Mediterranean

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Give a Taste of Catfish Country

Looking for gifts with taste?

Try a taste of Catfish Country!

I never really thought about giving specialty food until I opened a package of maple-pumpkin butter from New England last Christmas. Maple anything is not a Catfish Country item, so it was nice to have something other than muscadine jelly or Dallas County honey with breakfast.

Recently, I noticed some searches on this blog with the words “catfish holiday gifts.” I entered the search box and found that there are a LOT of catfish items for sale.

Catfish lovers would be pleased!

So would food lovers who have never had anything like Taste of Gourmet’s Smoked Catfish Pate and Catfish with Capers. The paté is an appetizer that’s ready-to-serve and won an outstanding hors d’oeuvre award in New York some years ago. It’s described as a “recipe borrowed from Scotland and perfected in The Crown’s kitchen.” The Crown is a popular restaurant in Indianola, Mississippi, just one of many Catfish Country towns!

Now, surf on over to The Mississippi Gift Company and check out the Corsair Fish Fry Breading. The description says it is handmade in Mississippi by a gourmet food entrepreneur, and a crisp fish fry is guaranteed! If there’s a cook on your list, catfish recipes are available in the Classic Catfish Cookbook.

From Mississippi, head “east” to The Whistlestop Café in Irondale, Alabama, and order a batch of their famous fish batter. The Whistlestop is where Fannie Flagg got her idea for her novel-turned-movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café.”

Now, if you want to make someone’s present really easy to enjoy, try the Lemon-Peppered Catfish at Omaha Steaks. The website describes these catfish as farm-raised, but I couldn’t find a place on the website that said WHERE they were farm raised, so I just sent an email to their contact person and asked.

“Raised in the USA,” was the quick reply! I mean I sent that email at night and didn’t expect an answer until at least the next work day. But I got it in about an hour! That’s what I call web customer service!

Well, I better get going…still have gifts to order before it’s too late! Enjoy your holiday surfing, and let me know if I’ve overlooked anything truly tasty!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Fillets (with Video!)

It's nights like this (cold outside and nothing much to watch on TV inside) that I like to scan recipe websites for something different to try. That's when I came across tonight's feature at My Recipes...Cornmeal Crusted Catfish Fillets.

A few months ago, SC Mom shared a Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Nuggets recipe, but this one is different, and it's taken from
Cooking Light magazine. It features Cajun seasoning and bacon drippings (yes, the old southern frying method).

I thought bacon drippings were a no-no nowadays, but you can always use a healthier cooking oil. However, that bacon really does make food extra tasty!

The neatest thing, though, is a video demonstration that goes along with the recipe. The fish is served with green beans, coleslaw with crispy bacon and roasted potatoes.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Colonel Stephens' Christmas Trees and Catfish

You know it’s almost Christmas when it’s time to cut the Christmas tree!

Around Selma, this tradition often becomes a family outing to Stephens Christmas Tree Forest. A child’s fantasyland of cypress and cedar, the farm is just 15 miles from town along a winding, wooded road.

Boughs of Carolina Sapphire and Blue Pyramid steep with fragrance that only live greenery can give, and the temptation to cut a tree that’s too tall for the ceiling is…hmmm… overwhelming!

Check Stephens, the Christmas Tree Man, is well known. His trees have not only sheltered gifts in our homes but created majesty at the state capitol and governor’s mansion. Active in civic clubs, church, the Army Reserve, politics and agriculture, many honors have come Stephens’ way.

But there is one thing that a lot of his customers don’t know. The gentleman who grows their trees also pioneered the industry that brings pond-raised catfish to their plates!

Stephens resided in Greensboro and was selling feed for Ralston-Purina back in 1960 when he and a company scientist had a chance meeting with a local dairy farmer. The farmer mentioned a fish kill in his bass pond and asked the specialist for advice about restocking.

“Stock it with catfish!” was the reply. But no one had fingerlings for stock. That’s when Stephens and the farmer, Richard True of Newbern, “decided that since nobody was hatching them, we’d start!”

They formed a corporation with another dairy farmer and began hatching fingerlings and stocking ponds. As the fish grew, they needed processing. So a few more people joined their effort, and Alabama’s first catfish processing company was born.

By the new Millennium, Alabama had nearly 25,000 acres of food-fish ponds and catfish sales of more than $80 million, most of it in the Black Belt.

Stephens later moved to Autauga County where he groomed his Christmas tree farm and continued growing fingerlings. Now, at 86, he declares the time has come to “hang up” the catfish operation. But this former Army colonel can never quit anything…perhaps just retire it.

Photograph: Check Stephens at his Christmas Tree farm

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Trends are In!

Have you heard about the fastest-growing dining trends?

Sustainable seafood is right up there in alternative sources along with local produce and organics.

The National Restaurant Association’s second annual “What’s Hot…What’s Not” food and drink survey has been released, and 1,282 chefs rated these items along with others as the “hottest new trends in U.S. restaurants.”

Sorry, all you food lovers out there, but smaller portions are also hot! The Reuters article revealing these tidbits and giving us some idea about how restaurants might serve us in 2008 can be found here.

Suffice it to say that catfish raised in U.S. farm ponds is sustainable, and diners don’t have to worry about consumption of antibiotics, hormones, iodine or mercury.

Eat More Fish!

Another recent Reuters Health article noted that studies are showing that senior citizens who eat more fish do better on tests of memory, attention, orientation, verbal fluency, visual conception and spatial motor skills. Whether the fish was fatty or lean didn’t seem to matter, and there may be something more in fish than omega-3 fatty acids that improves cognition, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Heavenly Pecan Pie

In honor of Thanksgiving, this post is devoted to pecans, that delicacy that ranks right up there next to turkeys on most southern tables.

Our family will have pecan pie, sweet potatoes topped with pecans and brown sugar, congealed salad with pecans and perhaps even orange pecan pralines if I don’t spend too much time on this computer! Now, while catfish isn’t considered a Thanksgiving staple around here, I found a recipe for Pecan-crusted Catfish with Ginger Orange Dressed Salad in case you’re interested!

We are lucky to be able to “harvest” our own pecans; rather, we are lucky that my father-in-law picks up the nuts from beneath his tree and sends them to us to get cracked!

At our home in Greensboro, we had several pecan trees…from slender seedlings to fat Stuarts. We picked them up for our own use as well as to sell to pecan merchants. I spent many an afternoon after school raking through leaves to be sure no pecan got left behind! Some were packed to ship to relatives who lived where pecans didn’t grow.

Pecans make great gifts either in the shell or toasted, glazed or salted. Put them in pretty tins or make a pecan brittle or pie. Now, I don’t do pecan brittle, but I do make a pretty good pecan pie, and its “secret ingredient” doesn’t seem to be included on any of the Thanksgiving websites I’ve searched. Not even Dear Abby’s Famous Pecan Pie recipe includes it!

The secret to a heavenly, delicious pecan pie is flour and the kind of corn syrup you use.

Forget the dark syrup and opt for the light syrup. Follow the pecan pie recipe on the syrup bottle, and add a heaping tablespoon of plain flour to the filling. The flour helps cut the overly sweet, syrupy taste. It also gives the filling a nice, custard-like texture that is easy to cut and eat. No more sticky pecan pie!

Heavenly Pecan Pie

3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. margarine, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. plain flour
1 ½ cups pecan pieces, broken
1 9-inch unbaked, deep-dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir first six ingredients well, then stir in pecans. Pour into pie crust. Bake on center oven rack 50 to 55 minutes. Cool. Makes 8 servings