I followed my nose off the dirt road and down a narrow vine-choked path through the gloaming woods to a decrepit trailer that looked like something Tom Joad dragged behind him out of the dustbowl. A yellow bug light next to the screen door cast a dim but promisingly golden glow over the crooked cinderblock steps.
I hesitated, not sure whether walking right up and knocking was such a hot idea; I may not have been in the exact geographical middle of nowhere, but I definitely was in the same zipcode, and, truth be known, I’m severely allergic to buckshot (it makes me break out in little red holes.)
“Ah hear ya out there,” a voice called from inside, “C’mon in before the copperheads hear ya, too.”
I cleared the dozen or so feet to the cinderblock steps in what is known around NASA as a ‘Buzz Aldrin Bound’. Inside, okra stew and grits were burbling away on the stove, biscuits were rising in the oven, and my friend Zeke (yes, I do know people named Zeke. Really) was busy walloping the tar out of a brown paper Piggly Wiggly bag with what appeared to be a piston from a small-block Ford.
Zeke chuckled. “Ya like my food processor? Damn good fer poundin’ chicken breast, too.”
He unfolded the bag and poured the flaky contents out onto a plate. “That right there’s my secret weapon,” he said, handing me the plate for a closer look. The crumbs were light brown and almost fluffy.
“What is it?” I asked
“Porko.” he said, matter-of-factly.
I was sure I’d misheard. “You mean panko?”
“Nope. Porko. It’s southern-style panko. Go ’head and try it.”
I dropped a pinch on my tongue. It was meaty…mysterious…and oddly familiar.
“Is this what I think…”
“Yep. And a littla this an’ that, too.” he said. “Now grab a beer and go sit the hell down so I can get to fryin’.”
It was a meal to remember. The catfish was moist and tender, enrobed in a crunchy, flavor-rich, and surprisingly greaseless crust. I was impressed.
Afterwards I sat back, as happy (a friend of mine likes to say) ‘as a bald-headed baby in a basketful of boobies’. Zeke went to the kitchen and returned with two more beers; he tossed a piece of badly-beaten, scribbled-on Piggly Wiggly bag across the table.
I looked it over, disbelieving. “That’s all there is to it? Are you sure?”
“Yep, that’s it,” he said, “It’s hella good and easy as fallin’ off a fence rail.”
As I left later that night, walking down the path trying to read Zeke’s scribbles again, heedless of any poisonous snakes underfoot, I heard Zeke call after me.
“Hey! Make sure you remember to tell your internet buddies that recipe is ga-run-teed, bubba: If that don’t make the best catfish they ever ate, I ga-run-tee they done somethin’ wrong!”
(What you just read is a true story. Well…I suppose ‘based on a true story’ is probably more accurate. Okay, okay, I made it all up. But I actually do know people named Zeke. Really.)
Here’s how to make the Southern Pork Rind Breaded Catfish With Pecan Cream Gravy:
2 1/2 cups lightly hand-crushed pork rinds (also known as chicharrones)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 large egg
1 tsp milk
6 catfish fillets
Oil for frying
For the gravy:
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp onion powder
In a food processor bowl, pulse the first four ingredients until the pork rinds are evenly crushed, but still have as bit of texture.
(Note: if you want to remove a bit of the oil from the pork rinds, crush them inside a brown paper bag or between paper towels inside a zip top bag.) Spread pork rind mixture on a plate.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Beat the egg with the milk in a shallow bowl. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a skillet to 350 degrees. Dip the fillets in the beaten egg, then dredge in the pork rind mixture, pressing to coat thoroughly.
Fry the fish in 2 batches until golden brown, turning once (about 3 minutes on the first side; 2 minutes on the second.) Keep warm in the oven while you make the gravy.
Using a meat mallet or the side of a chef’s knife, finely crush about 1/3 of the chopped pecans. In a saucepan or saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat and saute all of the pecans until they begin to color (about 2 minutes.) Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.
Pour in the milk about 1/4 of a cup at a time, stirring very well after each addition until thickened. Stir in the salt, pepper, and onion powder. Adjust seasoning.
To plate, divide the gravy among three plates; lay two catfish fillets on top of each. (To do it up southern-style, serve the fish with buttered grits, okra stew, and fresh biscuits on the side. Now, that’s proper!)
Makes 3 servings.
Please join us tomorrow to see newest recipe for Creamy Indian Spiced Orzo Pudding.
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