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My first encounter with Catfish

Updated: Apr 2

On a summer visit to Arkansas with David while we were still dating, his parents and another couple treated us to a visit to a catfish farm. Raised in a primarily kosher home, I was unfamiliar with catfish, a Southern staple.

We traveled down a gravel road alongside the Arkansas River, crossing a rickety bridge, before ascending to the other side.. Soon, we turned into a driveway leading to a large wooden building with a spacious veranda over a pond. Fishing poles and nets leaned on the railing all around. As we strolled across the walkway to the restaurant, I saw fish swimming underneath.

Inside, the rustic atmosphere had numerous picnic tables and an open kitchen. Seated, we were offered Sweet Tea or Lemonade. The waitress instructed us to go outside when ready, fish for our fish, then bring it in with the nets. They would take it from there. Wow! What an eye-opening experience!

After successfully catching our fish, we settled in, chatted, and waited. Soon, the waitress emerged with huge platters, presenting each of us with a WHOLE FISH, standing up, complete with head, tail, and whiskers! I looked at David and said, "NOW WHAT?". They all demonstrated how to flake the fish off the standing bone structure and dip into a myriad of sauces to enjoy.

Needless to say, it was a unforgettable, memorable experience.

Upon launching our restaurant in Manhattan, we knew catfish, a staple of Southern cuisine, was a must on our menu. However, sourcing whole catfish proved challenging in New York, and our customers were less inclined to deal with bones. So, we opted for catfish fillets, which were more accessible. We also found there was a significant flavor difference. A whole catfish exudes a more "wild-tasting, fishy" essence, while fillets tend to be sweeter and more versatile in absorbing flavors during cooking. Additionally, freshness is paramount. The disparity between frozen and fresh is unmistakable in taste and texture. Thus, fresh catfish fillets were a constant on our menu for twenty years, with an array of sauces, crusts and techniques of preparation for our customers to savor.

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