Back when I was Jewish—you knew I was raised Jewish, right? Before I broke my family’s collective heart and became a Christian?—I got to go to Hebrew School and hear all about the story behind Hanukkah every year. If you’re not Jewish, you perhaps don’t know that the holiday celebrates the “miracle of the oil,” in that a tiny bit of oil (all that was left, due to the circumstances of the story which aren’t all that important to my point here) ends up lasting and burning brightly for eight whole days, against all odds.
I am here to tell you that the TRUE miracle of the oil is that ANYTHING YOU DEEP FRY IS DELICIOUS. Hanukkah, schmanukkah. It’s not a miracle when oil burns for days. That’s a waste of a good chance to render perfectly healthy food a heart attack waiting to happen.
So a couple of weeks ago, catfish was on sale at the supermarket. I bought some and tossed it into the freezer. Yesterday I pulled it out to defrost, and started looking around for a good recipe. Because the fact of the matter is that I am not actually a huge fan of catfish. I mean, I’ll eat it, but it’s not my favorite fish.
My son is a fish FIEND, however, and after a long winter where salmon was out of season (and you know, I am just never going to buy farm-raised injected-with-orange-dye fish, sorry), we’d been eating a LOT of tilapia and I’d finally convinced the kids that YES, they like shrimp. I am getting a little sick of tilapia, actually. And the shrimp—well, let’s just say that I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of shrimp, but getting the children hooked on it when it was on sale was one of my more stupid moves, because now they want it MORE and I’m not paying $9/pound so they can just wait for it to go on sale again.
(Chickadee stood at the fish case on our last trip to Publix and said, “Hey Mom! I think I like SCALLOPS, too! I want some of those!” And I replied, “Oh, GOOD IDEA! But first you have to GET A JOB!” and the college students waiting in line behind us clearly thought I was on drugs. Hey, maybe THEY were paying $18/pound for scallops, in which case: who’s the crazy one, hmmmm?)
Anyway. I had this catfish. And while browsing for recipes I kept finding it paired with hushpuppies, and in case you don’t know what a hushpuppy is, I AM SO SORRY. Please come over to my house immediately. Because I chose a recipe for frying the catfish and I chose another for making hushpuppies and when it was time for dinner I poured half a bottle of oil (it’s a miracle!) into my cast iron dutch oven and the magic began.
The first thing I did was completely screw up the coating for the fish. It said a cup of cornmeal and a quarter-cup of flour, and I somehow put both a cup of cornmeal AND a cup of flour onto my plate. Whoops! I don’t know that that made much of a difference, really, other than the fact that I ended up throwing out a whole lot of flour at the end.
But the hushpuppies. Hooboy. I doubled the recipe, you know, because I figured the kids would really like them. And also because I AM A MORON. It turns out that when you drop delicious spoonfuls of what is essentially sweet corn bread mixture into oil, it EXPANDS.
It also gets all brown and crispy and delicious. MIRACULOUSLY!
So I called my family to the table to behold our fried fish and fried hushpuppies, and I have to give the kids credit, really—this is not exactly a visually appetizing meal. It’s two plates of brown clumps, basically, but you can SMELL THE MAGIC, of course, because by the time we sat down the entire kitchen smelled like McDonald’s.
[Handy tip: When you're going to spend your dinner prep time frying batch after batch of hushpuppies and fish pieces, check the state of the bag of salad BEFOREHAND. When I grabbed the salad out of the fridge and discovered it was slimy, I had to quickly wash celery and peel carrots so as to feel like there was some redeeming nutritional value in our meal.]
The fish was… fine. Still not my favorite, but fine. But the hushpuppies were fabulous. I mean, even though I could feel every pore in my skin clogging up from all the oil, I didn’t care. At all. They were THAT good.
Both kids had seconds, and Monkey had thirds. Everyone raved about the hushpuppies. And that’s good, because we will be eating hushpuppies until the end of time.
I fried up about half the batter before dinner, which was more than plenty for our meal. After dinner I heated the oil again and fried the rest. And then I had a ginormous platter of hushpuppies! After they cooled I packaged them up and put them in the freezer, to be rewarmed in the oven some night (or three) when I’m standing in the kitchen thinking, “Now what does this meal need? Let me see. Oh! I know! More OIL!”