Catfish, a freshwater fish, has got its name from its barbels which look like the whiskers of a cat, though it is not necessary for all the catfishes to have prominent barbels. The catfish is considered to be a healthy seafood product owing to its rich content of protein and Vitamin D. The tasty fish is available throughout the year, and is an integral part of holiday and festive cooking in many regions. The skin of catfish is hard and must be removed before cooking. Catfish is very popular in Central Europe and the Southern United States. It is also a popular food product in Asia and Africa. Catfish can be baked, crumb fried, or even curried and served with rice.
Catfish belongs to ray-finned fish group, and is available in different sizes. The longest one is from Southeast Asia, known as Mekong giant catfish. The second largest one is from Eurasia, called by the name wels catfish. The smallest one is known as candiru, Vandellia cirrhosa. The larger ones are basically farmed or fished for food purposes, and the smaller species are suitable to be kept in the aquarium only. Catfish may also be classified as naked catfish (without scales) and armour plated catfish.
The flavor and quality of the fish vary according to the judgments of food critics, where it is believed to be an excellent food product on one hand, and as flavorless and watery food product on the other hand. The seafood product is enjoyed as a great delicacy during holidays and large feasts in Central Europe. This tradition was also brought in the U.S. by the migrants of Africa and Europe. Blue catfish and channel catfish are the most popular catfish species in the United States. In U.S., farm raised catfish is consumed on a large scale. Due to huge prominence given to farm raised catfish in the United States, President Ronald Reagan, in 1987, established 25th June as the National Catfish Day, to make people aware of the value and importance of farm raised catfish. On 25th June, every year, catfish is enjoyed in almost all the households in the U.S. to celebrate National Catfish Day.
Catfish can be prepared in a number of ways and some popular regional preparations are as follows -
- United States- In the U.S., it is usually crumbled along with cornmeal, and then fried.
- Europe- In Europe, catfish is generally cooked alike carp.
- Indonesia- In Indonesia, the freshwater fish is generally served in grilled form as a popular street food, and is commonly consumed with soy sauce and vegetables. In Indonesia, minced catfish, known as Lele Penyet, is also a popular food eaten along with chili sambal.
- India- catfish is a popular food product in several Indian states viz. Assam, Kerala, and West Bengal, and is a great delicacy in monsoons. A curry made with catfish is more popularly consumed in Indian regions. It is believed that people suffering from fever and other ailments would soon recover with the help of consumption of catfish curry.
- Malaysia- in Malaysia catfish is known as "Ikan Keli", and is consumed after being fried with spices. It is also eaten in grilled form with gravy made of Thai chilies and tamarind. Steamed rice is also served along with grilled catfish at times in Malaysia.
- Hungary- in Hungarian cuisine, catfish is generally cooked in paprika based sauce, and served with curd cheese smothered pasta.
A few popular catfish recipes have been discussed as under:
- Oven fried catfish- this catfish recipe suggests coating milk dipped catfish fillets in cornmeal mix and baking them in oven on a greased baking tray until flaky, after being coated generously with cooking spray. The corneal mixture is a blend of cornmeal, thyme, paprika, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed, and pepper.
- Grilled catfish- catfish fillets are marinated for an hour or two in refrigerator in a mix of soy sauce, lemon juice, ginger, vegetable oil, garlic, minced onions, green onions, cayenne pepper, and paprika, and grilled on hot grill until flaky. The use of paprika as one of the marinating ingredients helps in imparting a spicy flavor to the grilled fish. The grilled fish can be made crispy by dipping the catfish fillet in melted butter and then coating the fish with seasoned cracker crumb mix prior to grilling. The crumb mix is a blend of crushed cracker crumbs, garlic salt, celery salt, and seasoned salt.
- Blackened catfish- the blackened catfish recipe suggests dipping catfish in melted butter and then coating it in a mix of several seasonings, herbs, and spices before cooking it a hot skillet on high heat until flaky and blackened. The catfish is generously drizzled with melted butter prior to being cooked. The herb and spice mix is a combination of paprika, salt, lemon pepper, ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried basil, and thyme.
- Steamed catfish- the steamed catfish recipe suggests placing fish fillets in an aluminum foil, sprinkling salt and drizzling butter over them, and topping them with cut vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and green onions. A mix of lemon juice and water is poured on top, and the fish fillets are wrapped in the foil, prior to baking them in oven. Another steamed catfish recipe suggests placing fish fillets over a mix of rice and vegetables, and allowing them to cook in steam over rice and vegetable mix, after sprinkling lemon pepper seasoning on top.
The calories in fried catfish are more than those in steamed version. Steamed fish of 3 oz provides around 6.11 g of fat, with 1.36 g of it being saturated fats, while 3 oz of fried catfish provides around 11.33 g of fat, with 2.79 g being saturated fats. As the major portion of fats consist of unsaturated fats, the risk of being affected by heart diseases, high cholesterol, and obesity gets reduced.
- Consumption of catfish meat helps to a great extent with respect to blood purification.
- It also helps in speeding up the recovery process of patients suffering from fever.
- Being a rich source of essentially fatty acids, particularly omega 6 fatty acids, catfish product is considered to be good for the heart health.