Maw Maws are the best fry cooks in the world. And I think this can be said for just about all Maw Maws. With cast-iron skillets older than any of their grandchildren, they are the seasoned ingredients that hold Louisianian families together. Mine lives near the airport in north Baton Rouge, and growing up, I remember how the windows rattled as planes approached the runway. I wouldn’t be surprised if pilots and their crews could smell her kitchen from 40,000 feet—the aromas of rice and gravy filled the air most days.
I recall a few times when Maw Maw broke out her trusty cast-iron skillet and got down on some fried catfish. Since the legendary Tony’s Seafood was on the way to Maw Maw’s, it became a family tradition to pick up some of their boudin balls and boiled shrimp to serve along with dinner. The live catfish tanks were a sight to behold for a youngster like me.
I like fried catfish any way Maw Maw cooks it. A large, hearty fillet does just fine for me. Aunt Turtle, on the other hand, always had a thing for the way thin-cut catfish crisps up around the edges. And I have to say, I like those just fine, too!
Fried catfish will always be a dish that brings me back to Maw Maw’s house and reminds me of family. Now that I’m the chef, I like to serve it with a bit more than ketchup or store-bought condiments. A little homemade tartar sauce and spicy relish typically does the trick!
- Peanut oil or other mild-flavored oil, for frying
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce
- 1 1/2 cups plain white cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cups masa harina
- 4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, such as Verrones
- 10 catfish fillets (4 to 5 pounds)
- Creole Tartar Sauce, recipe follows
- Jalapeño Relish, recipe follows
- Coleslaw (optional)
- In a large Dutch oven or other large pot, pour oil to a depth of 4 inches, and heat over medium heat until it reads 375º on a candy or deep-fry thermometer.
- In a shallow dish, stir together cream and hot sauce. In another shallow dish, stir together cornmeal, masa harina, and Cajun seasoning.
- Coat each fish fillet in cream mixture, then dredge in cornmeal mixture. Fry fillets in batches in hot oil until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes.
- Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with Creole Tartar Sauce, Jalapeño Relish, and coleslaw, if desired.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup Creole mustard
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, shallot, green onion, lemon juice, garlic, salt, hot sauce, and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.
- 6 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped (about 1 pound)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 cup finely chopped red onion
- To the work bowl of a food processor, add jalapeños and salt; process until smooth.
- In a small saucepan, bring sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, celery salt, and turmeric to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer; add jalapeño mixture and onion, and cook 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.