By: Chef John Folse
Every Sunday after mass at St. James Catholic Church, Daddy would pile all eight of us in his Chevrolet coupe and we’d make our way down River Road to Vacherie Lane. Waiting for us with open arms were Mamere and Papere Folse. Only grandparents could be that excited to see eight kids under 13 years old arriving for the day.
Papere was a raconteur extraordinaire and always had a tall tale that kept us spellbound while Mamere mesmerized us with a huge crock bowl filled with sweet farre dressing in the center of the kitchen table. The Wonder Bread was only inches away for us to make sweet farre dressing sandwiches. While I loved sweet farre, it was her Lac Des Allemands crab gumbo simmering on the back of the stove that I would’ve given my eye teeth for. I’ve eaten hundreds of gumbos in my life, but none, and I mean none, compare to Mamere Folse’s. My brother Jerry and I were talking about it just the other day. No matter how hard we try, it’s a gumbo that neither of us can duplicate.
“MARK TWAIN SAID IT BEST: ‘CATFISH IS A PLENTY GOOD ENOUGH FISH FOR ANYONE.’ AND I COULDN’T AGREE MORE!”
After we had filled our bellies, we would head to Lac Des Allemands where the prize catch of the day was catfish. This 12,000-acre “Lake of the Germans” is just 25 miles west of New Orleans and was named for Louisiana’s German settlers who inhabited this stretch of the Mississippi in the early 1700s. Descendants of these first families still reside in the area today: Waguespack, Schexnayder, Troxclair, Zeringue, Oubre, Tregre, Webre, Toups, Matherne, Hymel, and, of course, Folse. Nearly three centuries later, Lac Des Allemands is still a favorite freshwater fishing spot for families who not only fish recreationally but many of whom are commercial fishermen as well.
The lake is full of catfish. In the mid-20th century, fishermen started suspending metal cans and barrels in the lake. Many credit the bountiful harvest in Lake Des Allemands to these objects, which not only provide a safe habitat but a great breeding ground for fish. The catfish in Lac Des Allemands—which has an average depth of 5 feet—run about 6 to 8 inches long. Locals skin the fish, remove the head, and then batter and deep-fry the whole fish (including bones)! This “collarbone catfish” is a delicacy on the German Coast.
While some argue that catfish has a muddy flavor, depending on the water where it’s fished, Mark Twain said it best: “Catfish is a plenty good enough fish for anyone.” And I couldn’t agree more!
- 1 cup fat-free milk
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup yellow mustard
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, divided
- 1 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder, divided
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 (10-ounce) bag seasoned fish fry mix*
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 6 (8-ounce) collarbone catfish
- Lemon wedges and cocktail sauce, to serve
- Garnish: fresh parsley
- In a 1-quart bowl, combine milk, ½ cup water, mustard, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, hot sauce, and ¼ teaspoon garlic powder. Set aside.
- In a cast-iron stockpot or home-style deep-fryer, pour oil to fill halfway, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375°.
- In a large bowl, combine fish fry mix, cayenne, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, remaining ½ teaspoon black pepper, and remaining ¼ teaspoon garlic powder. Dip catfish in milk mixture; dredge in fish fry mixture, shaking off excess.
- Fry fish in batches until golden brown and fish begin to float, about 3 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove fish from oil, and let drain on paper towels. Serve hot with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
Chef John D. Folse is an entrepreneur with interests ranging from restaurant development to food manufacturing, catering to culinary education. Similar recipes can be found in Hooks, Lies & Alibis (Chef John Folse & Company).