The Catfish Will Rise Again Transcript

The Kitchen

    [AB is sorting through clutter as if preparing for a garage sale] Uni-tasker. Uni-tasker. Re-gift. 99 cents. There we go. Ooh, hey. Would you look at this! It's my old fishing rod. You know, when I was a kid I'd keep this baby out in the carport so that when I got home from school I could just dump the books and stuff and sneak off to the fishing hole, unbeknownst to my mom. I'd dig up a few worms along the way, plop down on the bank, and in a couple of hours I'd have myself a few juicy catfish. [AB's chair is quickly yanked back into the next scene]

Fishing Hole

    [AB, still in his chair, slows down into frame next to a pond] Whoa! Well, that's just the way it used to happen. I'd come home from school. I'd have chores to do. I'd pick up this silly rod and boom there I'd be at the fishing hole with a catfish on the line. I'm supposed to be at work and ... I wonder if... Well, what the heck?
    [he casts his line into the pond] Hey. Hey, I think I got one! It sure is: Ictalurus punctatus, channel catfish. Good size for eating too. Of course, when I was a kid there were only really three words to describe the cooking of a catfish; deep, fat, and fried. But as I've matured, done a little traveling, I've learned that the humble catfish of my youth is a culinary sophisticate, who, with subtle coaxing from the cook, can be converted to a global buffet of ...

[Good Eats Theme]

Miller Catfish Farm: Greensboro, AL

    The catfish is a unique critter compared to other freshwater fish. I mean, for one thing, they've got whiskers—barbels, technically speaking—that function not only as feelers, but as antennae, tuning in various signals from their surrounding environment. Take a look at the skin. Notice, no scales, just a nice, smooth, slick kind of slime. That ooze protects thousands of taste buds. That's right, this catfish is tasting my hand right now. The skin is also interesting because catfish drink through it.

AB: Yes, you do. All right, here you go, little guy. [releases it back into the water] There you go, off you go.

    Oh, don't worry. I'll catch another. I'm an excellent fisherman. All right, here we go. [casts the line again] Where was I? Oh, yeah. Because of that whole drinking through their skin thing, catfish have long been persecuted as tasting muddy because of the small-town, roadside, backwoods fish camps that once dotted the southern landscape served wild fish pulled out of muddy little holes in the ground and ... Whoa, I got another one! Would you look at that? How long did that take? Like, 30 seconds? No wonder the kids used to call me Catfish Brown.
    [the camera quickly pans to the sign, Miller Catfish Farm and then pans back] Okay, so the deck was stacked a little in my favor. But truth be told, catfish aquaculture is that rare case when good economics, good ecology, and good eats all align. I wonder if they'll make me pay for this.
    American farm-raised catfish are considered sustainable for a host of reasons. For one, they grow in scientifically controlled ponds on scientifically designed feed which they convert at a very respectable 1.8-1. That means it only takes one point eight pounds of feed to grow a pound of fish. And unlike, say salmon or tuna that require a lot of open water to thrive, catfish dig pond living, which means they don't have to be loaded up on a bunch of meds just to make it to market weight. Best of all, farmed catfish are sweet, firm, and versatile, a lot like, well, chicken. In fact, I think we oughta call them Chicken of the Pond.
    A lot like chicken, if you throw out a little chow these catfish will come-a-running. Now notice, they feed on the surface. That is a skill they're actually taught when they're still small fry. Now when channel cats reach 1 to 1½ pounds in weight they are ready for harvest. After being round up in a pen, the fish are simply scooped up 1,000 pounds at a time and moved into what's called a live haul truck, which functions as a kind of big rolling aquarium which takes them directly to the processing plant.
    Now it should be noted that these relatives of the blue and bullhead catfish are far, far tastier than anything I ever pulled out of a creek when I was a kid. In fact, if I caught one like this, he would still be hanging on my wall.


BEEF TENDERLOIN        $3.99 lb
RIBEYE STEAK           $7.69 lb
FILET MIGNON           $9.99 lb
FLAT IRON STEAK        $3.99 lb
GROUND CHUCK           $2.59 lb
TOP SIRLOIN            $3.99 lb
BEEF CUBED STEAK       $3.49 lb
BEEF SHORT RIBS        $3.99 lb
CHICKEN THIGHS            $1.99 lb
CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS        $1.09 lb
WHOLE CHICKEN             $1.29 lb
MIXED PORK CHOPS          $1.99 lb
PORK TENDERLOIN           $3.99 lb
BABY BACK RIBS            $3.89 lb
SPARE RIBS                $1.99 lb
CENTER CUB BACON          $3.49 lb

    When most of us go fishing these days it is in the seafood department of our local mega-mart. Or if we're lucky, an actual fishmonger shop. Farmed catfish come in many, many market forms, including:

  • whole with the skin on, heads and guts gone, of course

  • whole, skin off,

  • and then the fillets,

    • three to five ounces,

    • five to seven ounces,

    • seven to nine ounces,

    • and nine to eleven ounces.

Although I have to say, the seven to nine are the most commonly available. And the ones that I will be using today.

    Now I should point out that while I have absolutely nothing against purchasing I.Q.F. or individually quick frozen catfish in the water-glazed flash frozen state, I do not like buying thawed fish, okay?


    Above all, when it comes to farmed catfish, you want to see U.S.A. On the country of origin sticker. Because catfish imported from Asia: one, they're not the same fish, and two, they can be raised in ways that would raise the hair on the back of your neck. Shop American;  eat American. End of lecture.


Humphreys Country, Mississippi claims the title of
“Catfish Capital of the World.”

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Twitchy and itchy
              Catfish puppet

    Now that we have two delicious, sustainable catfish fillets on hand, let us consider our many culinary options.

    What? What does that say? Ooh! Why would you instantly assume that we should fry that catfish? I mean, I know it's a southern standard. But, I tell you what. You want south? I'm going to give you south.


    Beautiful South America, that is. You know, in places like Peru and Ecuador, and well, all around these places, white firm fish isn't cooked at all. It's marinated with herbs and chiles and citrus juices and then served, sometimes mixed with other bits of vegetation, in a dish called ceviche or cebiche, depending on where you are and who you ask. The key is that the fish that is served is technically raw and therefore, the freshest, highest quality fish should be used.  Now in the upper part of the western hemisphere there is no better candidate than farm-raised catfish, which is as squeaky clean, sweet and firm as you can get. And if you're afraid of cooking fish, this is the perfect application for you because it isn't cooked at all, it's pickled.

    So grab your sharpest, thinnest knife, don a glove, if you like, and cut your one pound of catfish fillets into half inch strips. Then stack them together and cross-cut into cubes. You want nice, even half inch cubes here, so take your time. Grab a zip-top bag, place the fish inside, and then turn your attention to the citrus. 1 Pound Catfish Filets
    Three limes. One large red grapefruit. We're going to need one teaspoon of zest from each. No pith, please. And a third of a cup of juice from the lime and a half of a cup from the grapefruit. And you're probably going to want to filter that grapefruit juice as it can be pretty pulpy. The zest goes into the fish, as do both the juices. Now odds are you're going to have some grapefruit juice left over. Waste not, want not. [dinks it] Mmm, vitamins. 1 tsp. Grapefruit Zest
1 tsp. Lime Zest
½ Cup Freshly Squeezed
    Grapefruit Juice
1/3 Cup Freshly Squeezed
    Lime Juice

    [at the fridge] Seal the bag, place in drip-proof containment and marinate in the fridge from four to eight hours with six being dead-on perfect. And you might want to reach in a couple of times during that and turn the bag to, you know, ensure even coverage. Now what's going on here is the acids from the citrus juice will denature, or chemically unfurl some of the fish proteins, firming the meat and turning it opaque. Now I should tell you ...

ITCHY AND TWITCHY: [enter into view]

    You know my attorneys.

AB: What is this?

    Oh, they want me to remind you that although many chefs refer to ceviche as being "cooked" by the acids, that is, in fact, not the case. And although most of the surface bacteria should be killed by the acidity, there is no way to ensure the absolute safety of the dish. Although I've had it about 1,000 times with no ill effects.

AB: Excuse me, guys. Excuse me. Thank you very much.

    While the fish marinates, we turn to the salad. Seed and mince one jalapeño chile. Finely dice one small red onion. Seed and dice one medium tomato. Thinly slice four cloves of garlic. Chop a tablespoon's worth of cilantro leaves and fresh oregano. And finally, peel, pit, and dice one ripe avocado. These you will combine in a large mixing bowl along with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one half teaspoon of toasted and ground cumin, a half teaspoon of turbinado sugar and of course, one and a half teaspoons of kosher salt. Toss to combine. Very nice. 1 Jalepeno [sic], Seeded &
1 Small Red Onion Finely
1 Medium Tomato Seeded &
4 Cloves Garlic, Thinly Sliced
1 Tbs. Chopped Fresh
1 Tbs. Chopped Fresh
1 Avocado, Peeled, Pitted
    & Diced
2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ tsp. Toasted Ground
½ Turbinado Sugar
1½ tsp. Kosher Salt

    Now when it's time to retrieve the fish, go ahead and drain it and save the marinade. We'll be using that later. Put the fish right on top of the salad and simply toss to coat. Now these flavors are going to need to have a little bit of time to get to know each other, so back into the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

Halibut, tuna, shrimp, and squid are also
excellent choices when making ceviche.

    Of course, when it comes to serving, you've got options-a-plenty.
    There. Now ceviche makes an excellent dip for chips, just like salsa, or you can simply serve it in a margarita glass as a salad or a light lunch. Now if you want to respect the Ecuadorian tradition, you will garnish liberally with corn nuts, of all things. Oh, and as for the drained marinade, that is referred to as "leche de tigre," or tiger's milk. And in many parts of South America it is considered the cure for a hangover.

So what do you think? [the sign pops up] What? Ugh, no. Not going to happen. Out of the question.


    Having witnessed how American catfish fare in one application from the Deep South, perhaps we should try another. This time from southeast, way southeast. As in southeast Asia, right about here. You can walk into just about any restaurant, or home for that matter, in Thailand and order up a cup of tom kha pladuk, or catfish coconut soup. Now why would this be such a popular dish? Well, for one thing, it tastes really fantastic. For another, you should see the size of the catfish they've got over there. They're just ... [there's a knock at the door] Who in the world could that be?

AB: [goes to the door but does not open it] Hello?
AB: We didn't call for one.
V: Candygram.
AB: No, I gave up the stuff.
V: Nobel prize committee.
AB: Well, it's about time!
HUGE CATFISH: [the voice turns out to be a huge catfish which leans in, swallows AB and exits, a la SNL's old Chevy Chase Shark-at-the-door]

    Don't worry, folks. Don't worry. That was, of course, just a dramatization. Although those proportions were correct. Luckily you don't have to land a monster catfish to make tom kha pladuk. But you will have to land a few ingredients from the international aisle of your local mega-mart.

The largest catfish on record weighed over 600 pounds.

Record-Breaking Giant Catfish

[this is not a part of the show, but a picture of the largest catfish for your enjoyment]


    Most of the software for this soup is easy-to-find stuff. You need a couple of limes, alright? Some cilantro, an habanero chile. You could use a Thai bird chile if they're in season. And a stalk of lemongrass, which most mega-marts have these days.
    Now tom kha pladuk: the tom means boil, pladuk means catfish, and kha refers to galangal. It's also called blue ginger, okay, after it's more common cousin. Now I strongly suggest you seek this [blue ginger] stuff out. If you can't find it, go ahead and use regular ginger, but I really like this stuff. You're also going to need two cups of fish stock. Now if you watched our Japanese pantry show you know that you can cook together some dashi from kombu and bonito flakes, or you could simply keep instant dashi on hand. Pretty handy stuff. Okay? You're also going to need a 14-ounce can of coconut milk and a quarter cup of fish sauce. Now think of that as kind of Asian Worcestershire sauce, only a whole lot funkier. All right, soup's on.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Colonel Bob Boatwright

    My favorite thing about Asian soups, besides the way they taste, is that they typically only require one pan. And little, if any, preliminary cooking.

    So two cups of your dashi, or fish stock, will come to a simmer in a large four quart sauce pan over medium to medium-high heat. 2 Cups Dashi

    Now we are going to need two tablespoons of thinly sliced lemongrass. And you don't want it from the top end because it's very woody. I'm going to take it only from about the bottom third. You're just going to need to use a very sharp knife and just saw back and forth. It's like cutting a culinary Lincoln log, but believe me, it's worth it.
    As for the galangal, or blue ginger, it's pretty tough to harvest as well. Certainly more so than ginger. So break it down into individual fingers. It's almost like links of sausage. Then take scissors and clip off the shoots, which are very, very papery. And just kind of trim it up. I usually use a peeler to get off the skin. It's not like regular ginger where you can just use a spoon. As you can see, there's a lot more fiber involved here. There. Now just use the same knife as you used on the lemongrass, and knock that down into matchstick size. Not quite a julienne. In fact, you'll need enough to fit into a matchbox. Good way of measuring.

    All right, that's boiling a little hard so I'll reduce the heat a bit. And the blue ginger goes in, along with the lemongrass. And don't think I forgot that habanero. I just figured you knew how to chop that up. Also, one tablespoon of cilantro leaves, freshly picked, and quarter cup each of the fish sauce and lime juice. We're going to let that come back to a simmer. It'll take about 45 seconds. 1 Tbs. Galangal Matchsticks
2 Tbs. Thinly Sliced
1 Habanero Pepper
1 Tbs. Cilantro Leaves
¼ Cup Each Fish Sauce &
    Freshly Squeezed Lime
    Then we add the coconut milk—that's 14 ounces—and the fish, catfish fillets, one pound cut into one inch chunks. And just let that return to a simmer. Do not boil it. 14 Ounces Coconut Milk
1 Pound Catfish Filets Cut
    Into 1-Inch Pieces

    Because of its particular and quite honest, primitive musculature, the catfish cubes will not fall apart the way a flakier fish might. Continue cooking for four or five minutes or until the fish is barely cooked through. Barely cooked through will look a lot like this. Barely opaque, nice and firm, not overcooked.
    Mmm, the heat of the chile doesn't overwhelm the sweetness of the catfish. And the coconut actually brings out the fish's nuttier attributes. Now doesn't beat the banjos out of silly old fried catfish? [the camera shakes back and forth to indicate "no"] Look, I simply cannot bring myself to pander to such grotesque southern stereotypes, okay? However, I do know somebody who specializes in just this sort of thing.

[ed note: from here on, the rest of the show is narrated by Colonel Bob Boatwright until the last scene]

    Howdy-do, children. Don't you worry one bit, your Colonel knows exactly what to do with an old river cat. I'm going to fry that thing up right now, come on.

    Now children, I know regardless of what that know-it-all nephew of mine says, the only way to eat catfish is to fry it up in a little black pot like we got right here with some peanut oil. I got about a quart of that stuff in there and we going to get that hot, like 300-something. Well, I can't quite see that. But we don't want it so hot that it's smoking. Smoking is bad for you. 'Less of course you're a pig, then that's another thing. So we'll leave that alone for right now. 1 Quart Peanut Oil
    Come on over here and look at these here catfish. Whoo, we got six fillets over here and they look mighty juicy. 6 Catfish Filets, 7-9 Ounces
    We going to season them up now. This is the scientific part so pay attention. Come on over here, come here close. I got me a bowl. I'm going to put some Old Bay seasoning, a teaspoon of that in here. I know it's Yankee. I'll grant you that. It's Yankee as the day is long. But I think they got a little South Carolina in the woodpile, if you know what I'm talking about. I know you do. 1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
    Here we go. We going to put some salt. Got to have some salt. We'll do a half teaspoon of that kosher salt. And a snuff-sniffing bit of hot and smoky paprika and some pepper. That's about a quarter teaspoon each, I reckon. Mix that up there with that ol' fork. There you go. Whoo. I can smell that. It's going to be some kind of delicious. ½ tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Smoked Paprika
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black

    We just going to sprinkle that. Papa going to make it rain all over that catfish. There we go. Just be liberal with it now. I'm especially good at this 'cause I got me a liberal arts degree. [laughs] I just kill me sometimes, I do. All right, we going to get that all over that fish. There you go. There you go. Everybody getting all smothered up good-like.
    Now we going to need to flip all them over. But watch this; I got me some hocus pocus. You just stay there a second. I'll be right back. I'm just going get up here and get this pan right here and ... [notices the camera looking through the pan shelf] Oh, I see you! You think you're hiding, but you're not! No, sir, no.

Catfish is the 5th most consumed type of seafood in the US.

The Kitchen

CBB: Okay, here I coming. Watch this now. Are you watching me now? Watch closely now how I do this now. We going to put this right over here like this places one sheet pan on top of the fish and flips everything] There we go, and just ... Whoo. There goes my cane. Flip it over. There you go. Look at that, how easy that is. Now hold on a second. I got to get my orthopedic support device from here. Okay, I'm good. I'm okay. Here we go. You stay up here on this ???  here. All right, now here we go. We got all that seasoning on there, it's going to be so good. Whoo, I may just faint! There we go.

    All right now, looky here. I got me an assembly line all set up here. So we're going to take this fish and we're going to put it into buttermilk. I got about six ounces of that buttermilk there, just a little swim she going to take. And let it drip and drain now, don't get impatient. Wait on it. Wait on it. Okay, there we go. We waited. That's good. And that's going into our dredge. And this is a special concoction. I got right in here a cup each of some regular all-purpose flour and some fine cornmeal. I don't mean fine like, "She's fine." I mean like, ground up real small-like into meal. There we go. And you just want kind of dust all that off of there. I kind of give it a wiggle. That's my wiggle; that's my trademark. And we put that over here on this rack. That needs to sit there about five minutes now before it goes into the pan. You don't do that all the crust is going to fall right off when it hittin' that oil. Then it'll be a dark day in Dixie, or wherever it is you stay. Now I'm going to finish this up over here. Just take me a minute. 6 Ounces Low-Fat

1 Cup Each All Purpose Flour
    & Fine Ground Cornmeal

    Whoo, all right now. Our fish is standing by. Our goober oil is 350 degrees. We just going to slip some of these beauties in two at a time. I call this cooking with Noah! Cooking with Noah, see? 'Cause he had a ark ... Oh, never mind.
    Now I know you could pan-fry your catfish. But I say deep-fat-fry is the only way you go. Besides, ordinarily, we'd be sneaking in some hushpuppies as well, but that's another show. Now we going to let these cook five or six minutes 'til they're golden brown and some other kind of delicious.
    All right, I'm going to use one of these here spider things that they talking about all the time to get that out. Look at that. Look at that. Look at that! Oh my good googly moogly! That's like some kind of deep-fried piece of heavenly paradise. Look at that golden brown and deliciousness. Here comes another one now. Here it comes. All right now, you just let that sit for a few minutes 'cause it's going to be too hot to eat, I reckon.

Can't eat right away? Just stash the drain rack in
a 250 degree oven for up to 30 minutes.

CBB: Whoo, there you go now. There's some ketchup and some tartar sauce if you want it.
AB: Well, thanks, Uncle Bob. I have to admit, this looks righteous.
CBB: Ah, frying is the only way to eat an old river cat. I can tell you that. And by the way, um, I'm not your uncle. I'm actually your third cousin once removed on your mother's half-sister's side.
AB: Really?
CBB: Mm-hmm. Now dig in now, don't let your fish get cold.

    You know, down south, we may be discombobulated on a few points, here and there. But when it comes to catfish, well, we know good eats when we see it. Y'all come back now.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/28/2010