While in college at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama, I fished numbers of backwater sloughs and woods ponds. Every year when the Tombigbee River near campus flooded during the spring, new fish from the river moved into these ponds. But then during the summer months when this area often had drough47ts, the size of these ponds would shrink drastically, making the fish in these ponds more concentrated. Two things that a fish needed when in shallow water besides food was shade and cover. These ponds usually had big cypress trees as well as hardwood trees on their edges that provided both shade and cover, and I could catch bass using top-water lures in the middle of the day underneath these trees’ shade. The average bass I caught weighed 1 – 4 pounds.
Back in those days, no one thought eating bass as long as you didn’t take over the limit was immoral. So, usually by fishing several afternoons or all day on Saturday, I could catch enough bass and crappie to feed most of the students in the married students’ apartments at the University. However, before I tried to put on a major fish fry, the first time, I decided to do a taste test on the fish I caught. To my dismay, because those fish were living in water with high tannic acid, the flavor of the fish tasted like the water where they swam. In other words, they tasted like rotting leaves. However, I realized if I could get that off-flavor taste out of the fish, I’d have a tremendous source of protein for my family and the other married students who also lived on low budgets like us. This recipe reduced the off-flavor smell and taste of fish that some people called, “Too fishy.” Here’s what I did.
* Number 1: First, I cut the fish fillets into small chunks about the size of the first two joints on my index finger. This procedure allowed for quicker frying, but more importantly it enabled the marinade to pull the off-flavor out of the fish and any fat or oil the fish might have in it.
* Number 2: Next, I put a 10-pound bag of crushed ice in a 48-quart cooler. I spread the fillets out evenly over the crushed ice.
* Number 3: I poured in another 10-pound bag of crushed ice to cover the fillets.
* Number 4: Next I poured two, 1-liter bottles of 7Up over the ice and left the fish in my cooler sit overnight on the front or the back porch where they weren’t in direct sunlight.
* Number 5: The next morning, I took the fillets out of the ice and 7Up mixture and put them in a covered dish in the refrigerator until ready to be cooked for lunch or dinner. My fish cooker had a thermometer built in that notified me when my oil was at 350 degrees, the right temperature for frying fish. I took the chunks of fish that had been soaking in 7Up overnight, shook as much water off of them as possible, dropped them in a plastic bag containing Fish Fri (https://bit.ly/30soVjj) and shook the bag until all the chunks of fish were well coated with the Fish Fri.
* Number 6: Then I dropped the battered fish into my fish fryer, watched for the chunks of fish to rise to the surface, took them out of the fish fryer and drained them on paper towels. Most of the time my guests started eating the fish as soon as they didn’t get their fingers burnt from grabbing the hot pieces of fish.
Catfish Hors D’oeuvre:
This recipe from our cookbook, “The Best Wild Game and Seafood Cookbook Ever,” available in Kindle and print at http://amzn.to/WkbLRg is one we’ve made through the years with just about every kind of fish, and they’ve all tasted wonderful. A fishing friend gave this recipe to my wife when we first married, and everyone finds it delicious.
20 to 30 fillets of catfish (any white meat fish will work), cut in approximately 2-inch by 2-inch pieces
Soy-based steak sauce
Margarine or butter
Strips of bacon
Place the fillets on a platter. Lightly salt, and allow to sit for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle each piece of catfish with steak sauce. Apply a small pat of butter to each fillet. Squeeze freshly-cut lemon over fillets, and cover fillets with slices of bacon. Cook in a smoker or an oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until the bacon is done.
To learn more about fishing for catfish, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “Catfish Like a Pro,” available in Kindle and paperback versions at https://amzn.to/2LNt0dK.
Tomorrow: How to Get Delicious Fish for a Fish Fry