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Blue Catfish

Lauren Knowlton/flickr

There's an old saying that if they give you a lemon, make lemonade.  It seems to me you can say the same about the invasive Blue Catfish, a scourge of the Chesapeake Bay. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you, if there is one thing we've learned about this fish, it's that it is very tasty to eat.  So in this case revenge can be served piping hot.

To stir up interest in luring the Blue Catfish to our dinner plates, the folks at Maryland's Best Seafood are holding a contest to find the best recipe.  But before you start experimenting, here's a little basic knowledge.

Essentially there are three kinds of catfish:  flatheads, channel, and blue.

Each has its advocates and detractors, but there seems to be agreement that any catfish caught in cold deep water will taste great.

A lot of people complain about a muddy taste in catfish, but it can be totally avoided.  If you fillet a blue, you will see mostly white meat, but there is a red streak that goes down the middle.  If you cut it out with a really sharp knife, you're left with pristine white meat that is ready for cooking.       

At this point just about any recipe that works for firm white fish will work here. Let's take a look at a basic fried catfish recipe.

Chesapeake Bay Fried Blue Catfish

4 blue catfish filets, trimmed and washed

Old Bay seasoning

1 whole lemon

1 1/2 cups corn meal

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp salt

2 whole eggs 

3 cups canola oil for frying

1.  In a bowl, sprinkle the filets with one generous tablespoon of Old Bay.

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon onto the fish.  Use your hands to evenly coat the filets with the seasoning.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2.  To mix the coating batter,  combine the corn meal, flour and salt in a bowl, and sprinkle generously with Old Bay.   Mix well.

3.  Crack the eggs into a separate bowl, toss in a teaspoon of Old Bay and stir vigorously.

4.  Dip the chilled filets into the egg mixture, then dredge with the coating batter, making sure to evenly and thoroughly coat both sides.  Squeeze a little more lemon juice on the filet.

5.  Pre-heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high, and add the 3 cups of  oil.  When it starts to shimmer, add the catfish filets one at a time.  Fry on each side for two minutes.  Remove the filets and drain on paper towels.  Serve within 10 minutes.

Other recipe ideas include blue catfish tacos, blue catfish bouillabaisse, and simple baked blue catfish with a lemony beure blanc sauce.  And our friend John Shields has used blue catfish in a delicious fish and chips dish.

For more information on the recipe contest, or general inquiries about Maryland's Best Seafood, contact Ron Buckhalt  [email protected] or call 410-841-5838. If you'd like to enter your recipe on line, fill out this form. Or you can send them to Seafood Marketing, MDA, 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD, 21401.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.