The Dish

Like Rodney Dangerfield, catfish don’t get no respect. Yet who but the most arrogant snob could resist a platter of golden-brown filets, moist and sweet in their crunchy cornmeal jackets? Forget that outside the South, anglers dismiss these bewhiskered members of the Siluriformes order as homely, galumphing bottom-feeders. Never mind that self-styled gourmands deem their bland, cottony flesh suitable only for catfish parlors frequented by people who drive pickup trucks and spit tobacco juice out the window. A huge national fan base—which consumes more than 425 million pounds of domestically raised catfish a year—begs to differ. And which state eats the most? Why, Texas, of course, weighing in with nearly a quarter of the total, more than the next four states combined. Mark Twain may not have been from around here, but he got it right when he said, “The catfish is a plenty good enough fish for anyone.”

How to Make It

Brisket is an hours-long ordeal. Tamales require an entire family. Chili drives you to drink (too much beer). But frying catfish is easier than falling off a log backward, and you can be done in ten minutes flat. No one knows this better than Kathy Wofford, the owner of Mrs. Kathy’s Southern Comforts, in Snyder. “My dad loved to fish, and my mother was an excellent cook,” says the Mississippi native. “Momma’s the one who taught me how to drop the fish in a sack with some cornmeal, shake it up, and pop it in the pan.” In a few minutes, “out would come the most beautiful golden fish you ever saw.” In 1974, at the age of nineteen, Wofford and her husband, Tony, moved to Snyder, between Lubbock and Abilene. When their children were older, in 2007, she opened Mrs. Kathy’s, using a lot of her mother’s old recipes. Regular customers get there early on Friday for her famous spicy fried catfish, because when it’s gone, it’s gone. —PS

Mrs. Kathy’s Spicy Fried Catfish

vegetable oil for frying
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus more for seasoning
6–8 catfish filets

Heat oil in a fryer or skillet (enough to cover fish and allow it to float) to 360 to 365 degrees. In a shallow bowl, mix cornmeal with salt, cayenne, and paprika, and set aside. Rinse fish and shake excess water off. Lay filets out on a cutting board and season both sides with salt, cayenne, and paprika, rubbing the seasoning into the fish. With a sharp knife, cut filets into 2-inch strips. Dredge in cornmeal mixture. Carefully drop fish into hot oil (do not overcrowd) and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until fish floats and is golden brown. Serves 6.

Hush Puppies

from Kathy Wofford

vegetable oil (such as peanut), enough to cover the hush puppies
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1–3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/2–3/4 cup milk

Heat oil in a skillet, large pot, or Dutch oven to 360 degrees. Mix all ingredients until well incorporated, then spoon into oil (a melon baller works well). Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Makes 10 to 12.

Tomato-Onion Relish

2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup green onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2–1 fresh or canned jalapeño, chopped (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate. Serves 6.