As a teenager growing up in New York City, I was Yankee to the bone. But once I read To Kill a Mockingbird, everything culinary south of the Mason-Dixon line fascinated me. I especially wanted to try fried catfish. The first time I had it, the fish was succulent in its crisp cornmeal crust, but I did not like its muddy flavor. The second time, it was blackened Cajun style, and the searing spices were all I could taste.

Recent publicity about farm-raised catfish made me decide to try it again. This was partly because I was claimed that todays catfish, farmed commercially in Mississippi and other states, is sweet and lean. Equally important to me, Environmental Defense, the watchdog organization, had researched the industrys practices and declared that catfish farming has minimal environmental impact.

Most supermarkets now sell meaty catfish filets. Often, they are flavorfully marinated and ready to toss in the pan. Beneath the seasoning, they do taste far sweeter than those caught in streams, though there is still a trace of the characteristic, earthy flavor found in other fresh water fish as well. But catfish is so lean, holds together well in cooking and so easy to cook, that I set out to prepare it in a way I would like.

Instead of prepackaged spices, I chose to blend my own, making a blackening mixture with bold flavor and a kick that leaves tastebuds tingling rather than singed. Apply it like a dry barbecue rub and let the fish set for a few minutes before cooking. A cornmeal coating creates a crisp crust despite the minimal amount of oil. To serve, put the pan-fried fish on a toasted bun, along with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. (Southern readers might try Remoulade Sauce and pickle slices instead.) This treatment is so good youll go back for a second serving.

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Cajun Catfish Sandwich

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

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  • 1 tsp. each: cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, salt 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise 4 3-oz. pieces catfish fillet 3 Tbsp. yellow cornmeal 1 Tbsp. canola oil 3 romaine lettuce leaves, finely shredded 8 thin tomato slices 4 hamburger buns (preferably whole wheat), toasted

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine all spices and salt together. Mix 1 tablespoon of the mixture into the mayonnaise and set aside.
  2. Lightly rub each side of the fillets with the dry spice mixture and let it sit 10 minutes. (This spice mixture is also delicious on other kinds of fish as well as on chicken and pork.)
  3. Lightly coat fish with corn meal. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Saut fish until browned on both sides. Reducing heat, if necessary, cook until fish is opaque in the center at the thickest points, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Spread a thin layer of seasoned mayonnaise on the surface of the bottom and top buns. Reserve remaining mayonnaise mixture for another use.) Cover bottom of each bun with one-quarter of the lettuce. Add a slice of tomato to each. Top each with a fillet. Add a tomato slice on top each fillet and cover with top of bun. Serve immediately.

Per serving:
313 calories,
14 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat),
29 g. carbohydrate,
18 g. protein,
4 g. dietary fiber,
603 mg. sodium.


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