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Time to go after those big, ugly catfish

June 19, 2010
By Kenneth Cobb

I have taken a break from this outdoor column for about two months, but now I need to get back in the weekly routine.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has finished their trout stocking for the spring last month; and chances are, there will not be any more until fall. It looks like we are in for a hot and humid summer. This is the time to go after those ugly catfish.

This year, the DNR will most likely be stocking channel catfish that range from pound to more than 2 pounds. Most of them will be reared at the new Apple Grove State Fish Hatchery in Mason County. A few will come from the private sector. From 2006 to 2009, the DNR fisheries management staff conducted a study on the success of stocking catchable channel catfish from small impoundments. Families and young anglers have had a high percentage of success in going after these ugly fish.

Some of the local lakes stocked with channel cats are: Cedar Creek State Park in Gilmer County, Coopers Rock Lake in Monongalia County, French Creek Pond in Upshur County, Handley Pond in Pocahontas County, Pendleton Lake at Blackwater Falls State Park in Tucker County, and Watoga State Park Lake in Pocahontas County. Some of these fish are tagged, and anglers who catch a tagged fish are requested to return the tag along with information on the date of catch with the name and address of the angler to the WVDNR, 2311 Ohio Ave., Parkersburg, West Virginia 26101.

One of the best baits for catfish is raw chicken livers. When I was doing a lot of fishing in the mid 60s, I would take chicken livers and let them sit outside in the hot sun for a day or two. They would get gooey and smelly, but the channel catfish would go after this the way I would go after a juicy New York strip. I did a good bit of fishing at a private lake in Kanawha County. Some of the catfish were real beauties.

The only difficulty I had with this bait was keeping it on the hook, especially for the first cast. Chicken livers are inexpensive, and they are available at just about any grocery store.

Catfish were once considered a poor man's food. Today, they are regarded as a delicacy around the world. When properly prepared, a baked catfish fillet is just simply delicious.

I am making myself hungry just thinking about this. I would not mind having a baked catfish fillet or fish sandwich right now.

Ruth mixes breading ingredients in three pie pans: Seasoned flour (salt, pepper, Emeril's essences or Old Bay, herbs if you like); beaten egg and milk seasoned as well; panko or regular bread crumbs. Dredge fish in flour, then egg wash, then bread crumbs. Fry in corn oil or bake in 350 oven for approximately 10-15 minutes (watch carefully, you don't want to overdo fish). Serve as is or in a sandwich.

Recipe for Baked Catfish Fillet

Crabmeat-Cornbread Stuffed Baked Catfish with Creamy White Gravy. Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse 2004. Serves four.


1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped yellow onions

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped green bell peppers

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch chopped fresh thyme

Pinch cayenne

2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

2 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread, recipe follows

1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock or water

6 ounces crabmeat, picked over to remove shells and cartilage

4 (8-ounce) catfish fillets

Essence, recipe follows

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into slivers

Chopped parsley, garnish

Creamy Pan Gravy:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped yellow onions

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon hot sauce


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a large baking dish and set aside.

In a large skillet or saute pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the green onions, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Let cool slightly.

Crumble the cornbread into a large bowl. Add the cooled vegetable mixture and 1/2 cup of the stock or water. Mix with your hands until the bread is moist. Fold in the crabmeat and add more stock or water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to be moist but not overly wet (will depend upon the freshness of the cornbread). Divide into 4 portions. (Will make about 3 cups.)

Cut the catfish fillets in half crosswise and lay the 4 thicker portions in the buttered pan. Separate the smaller portions lengthwise into two strips each.

Place a scoop of the crabmeat stuffing in the center of each of the four catfish fillets in the pan, and season lightly with Essence. Arrange two catfish strips along the outer edges of the stuffing to surround, pressing down. Lightly season the top catfish strips with Essence and dot with butter. Bake until the fish is just cooked through and tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, make the sauce. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are soft. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, to make a light roux, about 2 minutes. Add the milk, cream, and hot sauce, bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

To serve, place a portion of the stuffed catfish on each of four large plates and top with the sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Skillet Cornbread:

1/2 pound bacon, chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic

4 jalapenos, seeded and diced

4 cups cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 cups buttermilk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

10 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Brown chopped bacon in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Add the garlic and jalapeno and saute until softened.

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper and mix well. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter. Add to dry ingredients and stir just to combine. Quickly pour the cornmeal batter into the skillet.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until firm and golden brown on top. Let sit for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve hot with butter on the side.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 to 30 minutes

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

Recipe from "New New Orleans Cooking," by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch

Published by William and Morrow, 1993.



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