The miracle of the oil

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.

Yes.

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!”

61 Responses to “The miracle of the oil”

  1. 1
    Alison April 23, 2008 at 10:11 am #

    Hushpuppies are the food of the gods. (Also, I like catfish best when it is cut into strips and fried crispy.)

  2. 2
    Linda April 23, 2008 at 10:14 am #

    Just a tip (if you didn’t do so already) from a southerner who now lives in Maine and would LOVE some catfish and hushpuppies, season the flour, the cornmeal and the fish. It makes a world of difference. The best thing to season it with is Tony Chachere’s. It’s a little spicy for some people but very good.

  3. 3
    Em April 23, 2008 at 10:25 am #

    I want to know how Chicakdee pronouced scallops. Is she still a Yankee in her heart?

  4. 4
    dad April 23, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    I love that some computer has selected to pair your gastronomic post with an advertisement for “Gripe Water” for colic.

    Do you mail order hushpuppies?
    I don’t suppose there is a way that they can be made in the oven like ersatz latkes (potato pancakes) is there? Although that would eliminate the miracle thing as well as the guilt.

  5. 5
    Jo April 23, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    Ummm, how could you write this post and NOT include the recipe for the hushpuppies?!?!?! I had some homemade hushpuppies at a chili cook-off last year and I have wanted a receipe ever since! Please share!

  6. 6
    All Adither April 23, 2008 at 10:39 am #

    They’re not that bad if you use canola oil. Right? RIGHT???

  7. 7
    Cheryl April 23, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    This is why I don’t live in Georgia (or Texas anymore). I don’t like hushpuppies.

    But hey, I’m glad someone does!

  8. 8
    Ariel April 23, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    I had hushpuppies ONCE and they were the food of the gods. But I would love a recipe…

  9. 9
    MomCat April 23, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    This post also attracted an ad for “How to Lose Belly Fat.” Seems apropos.

    My daughter knows that we can only buy expensive main courses if we don’t buy any other goodies — cookies, crackers, cereal or ice cream bars. She always chooses well.

  10. 10
    Rebecca April 23, 2008 at 10:50 am #

    Hmmm I was considering trying to make fish tacos tonight… but I think I’ll just fry it up in beer batter (ok, let’s make it even more unhealthy) and try out the hush puppy recipe. Yum!

  11. 11
    Lindsay April 23, 2008 at 10:51 am #

    Le sigh. Sounds very yummy. My husband HATES everything fish related so I only have it in restaurants. I tried to explain the ‘we come for the fish,but we stay for the deep fried ness’ mentality to him but he doesn’t buy it. Awesome that your son the picky eater digs it. Too bad about the love of $9 a pound shrimps though.

  12. 12
    Deb April 23, 2008 at 10:53 am #

    Yum!!! now I have to find a good hushpuppies recipe.

  13. 13
    Jenni April 23, 2008 at 10:54 am #

    I generally go to the store by myself, but last night Ruben was wanting some time without fifty bajillion interruptions so I took Red to the park and then to the store. And oh my word I had forgotten how much she asks for EVERYTHING. She got told No on most of it, I did relent on the yogurt…and bananas.

    My favorite line out of her is, “Oh I’ve always wanted to try this!” When I know for a fact she didn’t even know it existed until that very moment.

  14. 14
    donna April 23, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    Okay, now I’m hungry for hushpuppies.

    And I loved that Chickadee just knew she liked it, even though she’d never had it. At least it’s the flip side of the commercial where the little girl is telling her mom she doesn’t like anything the mom is putting in the cart . . .
    “I’m pretty sure I don’t like waffles.”

  15. 15
    Mom24 April 23, 2008 at 11:10 am #

    I would love the recipe. I’ve tried a couple of hush puppy recipes and not been happy. Also, would you share your banana bread recipe. Again, I’m not satisfied with mine. Thanks.

  16. 16
    Beth April 23, 2008 at 11:12 am #

    I’d love to have your hush puppy recipe too. My hubby loves them — as do I. We should live in the south, but are stuck in the north. *sigh* And I’m with you, catfish is not my favorite.

  17. 17
    jp April 23, 2008 at 11:12 am #

    Mir,
    How do people read your posts and NOT realize you always link up w/ a recipe?!?!?!

  18. 18
    Aimee April 23, 2008 at 11:16 am #

    Okay, I’ll be right over! (What? you *said* I should come over!)

  19. 19
    Headless Mom April 23, 2008 at 11:29 am #

    Fried…mmmmmgood. I did the catfish/hushpuppy thing a while ago. The mess was such that I decided that the next time would be in the summer when we can do it outside. I think that time is rapidly approaching!

  20. 20
    Lindy April 23, 2008 at 11:31 am #

    Have you been to Sabor Latina here, out near the mall? It’s a Latin American food place – not just Mexican, lots of South American stuff too – and it’s pretty good. BUT… they have deep fried twinkies. Deep. Fried. Twinkies. Covered in powdered sugar. And, said artery clogging delight is much cheaper than any stupid ol crustacean. MMMMM.

  21. 21
    Mandee April 23, 2008 at 11:34 am #

    Next time, serve the fried catfish and hush puppies with some cheese grits and coleslaw and you will be able to declare yourself a real Georgian. Although, you really need to get a fish frier and banish Otto to the deck with it. Nobody in my family will fry fish inside anymore.

    My favorite way to prepare catfish is a Southern Living recipe–pecan crusted with a lemon flavored cream sauce over it. I’m too lazy to find it, but it should be on their website. Although, I seem to recall a nut allergy in your family.

  22. 22
    Jenny April 23, 2008 at 11:37 am #

    Hushpuppies and fried catfish? [insert moaning and eyes rolling back into head]

    I like to pretty heavily salt & pepper the naked catfish AND the catfish’s coating (with cracked pepper — not the real finely ground stuff) before getting started.

    And then I go stock up on green salad and Tums.

  23. 23
    Chuck April 23, 2008 at 11:40 am #

    I know fish is good for you, but the only kind I really like is shrimp and lobster (actually, any shellfish.) But hush puppies definitely rock. I’m too lazy to make them myself though.

  24. 24
    Michele April 23, 2008 at 11:59 am #

    Next time cook the fish in peanut oil, and if you have french fries coat the fries in the seasoned meal mixture and fry in the same oil after the fish is done. When you prepare the fish to fry make sure all signs of any darker meat of the fish is cut away on the pure white fish left to coat in the seasoned meal mixture. This taste so much better this way. I grew up eating fish several times a week, and learned to be VERY picky about catfish!

  25. 25
    mojo April 23, 2008 at 11:59 am #

    Sounds like I’m missing out – I’ve never had hushpuppies. But I live north of the border where I’m digging out from 2 feet of snow again. Next time I’m ‘down south’, I’ll have to try them (last time I tried grits for the first time. Yum!).

  26. 26
    jennielynn April 23, 2008 at 12:01 pm #

    Great. I just drooled all over my keyboard. Thanks, Mir.

  27. 27
    Sara April 23, 2008 at 12:22 pm #

    I luuurrvve hushpuppies. None of my kids do, and you would think that my youngest, who survives on a diet that consists mainly of breadcrumbs, ketchup and air would know a good thing when she sees one. Sadly, it is not so.
    Now, what do I have around here that I can fry so that I might experience my own miracle of the oil???

  28. 28
    Sara April 23, 2008 at 12:22 pm #

    I luuurrvve hushpuppies. None of my kids do, and you would think that my youngest, who survives on a diet that consists mainly of breadcrumbs, ketchup and air would know a good thing when she sees one. Sadly, it is not so.
    Now, what do I have around here that I can fry so that I might experience my own miracle of the oil???

  29. 29
    Anna Marie April 23, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    My grandmother in Alabama made the best hushpuppies known to man. This post has me missing her – and those hushpuppies – more than ever.

  30. 30
    lindasands April 23, 2008 at 12:28 pm #

    And here I thought Hushpuppies were dorky shoes.

  31. 31
    Beth April 23, 2008 at 12:31 pm #

    Hushpuppies…mmmmmmmm!

    Love the various ideas of how to handle the fish — thanks folks!

  32. 32
    Melissa April 23, 2008 at 1:08 pm #

    We also had hushpuppies last night, although mine were from Long John Silvers. I know, I’ve already reported myself to the authorities. But they were tasty.

  33. 33
    E April 23, 2008 at 1:16 pm #

    OMG hushpuppies are one of my favorite things to eat! But not one of my favorite things to cook. I always end up with oil splattered everywhere and my house smells like McDonalds for days.

    Oh, and my favorite way to eat hushpuppies — besides smeared in butter — is to sprinkle a little malt vinegar on them. Mmmmmmmmm…darn it, I’m hungry now.

  34. 34
    Megan April 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm #

    There’s a restaurant in Alaska that does a special version with sweet corn – very, very good if you like that stuff. Of course, their battered fish is halibut which sort of ups the taste value anyway!

  35. 35
    LiteralDan April 23, 2008 at 1:53 pm #

    Mmmmm… I’m hungry too
    Not sure if I’m ambitious enough to make hush puppies, but I sure want to try them now.
    And I also want banana bread, due to one of the comments above

    I need to go eat lunch…

  36. 36
    Lar April 23, 2008 at 1:54 pm #

    After reading this on my lunch hour, my Lean Cuisine just doesn’t have the same appeal.

    Basa is a good alternative to catfish; it has the same consistency but not such a fishy taste. I cut it into strips, sprinkle it with Cajun seasoning, roll it in cornmeal and pan fry it. It goes great in fish tacos, or just by itself.

  37. 37
    Rach April 23, 2008 at 2:19 pm #

    Okay, I have been lurking for over a year and every time you talked about church, etc. I would think to myself, “Man, she looks Jewish to me!” So the mystery is solved, but now I need to hear the story of how and why you became a Christian.

  38. 38
    mama speak April 23, 2008 at 2:20 pm #

    What kind of Yankee are you?? Next time you need to season the batter w/Ol’Bay!!!!

    I remember watching a late night talk show w/some band from the South on it once. They had declared that anything was good if it was deep fried and rented a commercial fryer. After one particular night (w/lots of alcohol, I assume) they deep fried EVERYTHING they had to eat, but still had the MIRACLE of good oil; so they deep fried someone’s Doc Martin’s, and they were delicious.

  39. 39
    Heidi April 23, 2008 at 2:23 pm #

    The ingredients sound really great. But they’re cooked in OIL!

  40. 40
    DR April 23, 2008 at 2:33 pm #

    Around here a Southern catfish dinner includes white beans, “vinegar” slaw, and sliced raw onion with either French fries, onion rings, or baked potato.

    My Mother used to also put chopped onion in her hush puppies, too. Plus, she always used mixed pancake batter as her coating for onion rings. I can’t remember if she added anything else to the batter but I do remember she deep fried them. I wish I had asked about the special touches of certain recipes before she died. All I remember is that I was a picky eater then and the only thing I liked about those dinners were hush puppies and onion rings.

    I’ve often wondered (but haven’t tried) if a Mexican corn bread mix would make good hush puppies. It has a certain appeal, I think. My best advice? Enjoy the deep fried stuff while you can…age has a way of causing a change in cooking styles.

  41. 41
    Justin April 23, 2008 at 2:42 pm #

    Store bought catfish, and good lord but you’ve made my roots from the south act up, is usually farmed. I LOVE catfish but I can’t eat the farmed stuff. I grew up eating it fresh and if you ever get the chance try it, you might like catfish a lot better if you do.

  42. 42
    Amy-Go April 23, 2008 at 2:51 pm #

    Ok, now I have to call my grandmother and get her hushpuppy recipe…except she DIED. THANKS, Mir. Now I want homemade hushpuppies AND my grandmother and I can’t have EITHER. So I’ll probably try to comfort myself with large quantities of ice cream and then I’ll be FAT. And THAT will be your fault, too. (After reading your last post, I thought blaming you for something in my comment would make you feel more at home. You’re welcome).

  43. 43
    Astrogirl April 23, 2008 at 3:32 pm #

    Mmmm, hush puppies. Not to anger the hush puppy contingent, but the only thing that beats out hush puppies (in my book) is corn fritters. Also deep-fried, but with yummy corn goodness. I don’t know how to make them, but a restaurant out here makes heavenly ones. Unfortunately, it costs precisely an arm and a leg to eat there, so we eat there about once a decade.

    And to Lindy, commenter above – do you live in GA too? I ask because there was/is a Sabor Latino when I lived in Denver a few years ago, and they were heavenly. Although I don’t remember fried twinkies, but they could have added them to the menu.

  44. 44
    BethR April 23, 2008 at 4:14 pm #

    If you guys ever find yourselves in the Triangle, you should go to the fish restaurant at the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. It’s the best damn fried seafood I’ve ever had, served directly out of the fire – hot and fresh and delectable. Mmmm.

    And then you should come over here and I’ll make cheesecake.

  45. 45
    beth April 23, 2008 at 4:34 pm #

    Oh man, I am needing some Long John Silver’s now. :-) The entire reason to eat there is the hush-puppies and the little crispy bits of batter. heavenly! I wonder if Jiffy cornbread mix would work fried?

  46. 46
    Jennifer April 23, 2008 at 4:56 pm #

    Hushpuppies are best with jalepenos in them. Not only does it add a taste sensation, but VEGETABLES too!! Then you can do away with the carrots. . .

  47. 47
    Jennifer (Et Tu?) April 23, 2008 at 5:46 pm #

    “ANYTHING YOU DEEP FRY IS DELICIOUS”

    That is one of the universal truths of humanity.

    BTW, I am so jealous that you were raised Jewish. I’m a convert to Christianity (from atheism) and I’ve recently realized that the more you understand about Judaism, the more you understand about Christianity (I know, duh, I’m a slow learner). So I’m starting to read everything I can about Judaism, but it’s a slow process.

    Anyway, not sure how I discovered your blog but I’m glad to have found it!

  48. 48
    becky April 23, 2008 at 5:51 pm #

    i miss really good catfish (which is actually better if it’s farm raised. less “muddy.”)

  49. 49
    Kirsetin April 23, 2008 at 6:12 pm #

    I am so sure that someone somewhere thinks you are going straight to hell for putting “miracle of oil” and “deep fry” in the same sentence. This is great–thanks for the laugh.

  50. 50
    mike golch April 23, 2008 at 6:45 pm #

    Mir,I just learned something new about you.Hushpuppies are great to have with fish.

  51. 51
    Cassie April 23, 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    Oh my god, fried catfish and hushpuppies is one of my all time favorite meals! Surprisingly enough, growing up, the ONLY fish I liked was catfish. …I know, there’s probably something wrong with me… However, I love salmon but still can’t manage scallops.

  52. 52
    Kritter Krit April 23, 2008 at 7:41 pm #

    Okay, that post was just CRUEL.

    Leftovers are so not going to cut it tonight. Now all I can think about is hushpuppies. Catfish. Lots of ketchup.

    Mmm.

  53. 53
    prophet April 24, 2008 at 12:45 am #

    I think this is the reason I never liked writing book reports when I was in grade school. Most people stick with the character of Black Beauty, say, in the book report on “Black Beauty”. I was interested in what happened to Merry Legs and Ginger. . . .

    I see the vast majority of your commenters glossed right over the raised-Jewish/converted-to-Christianity part of this story to focus on Hush Puppies.

    I read to the end, primarily to find out more about the Jewish/Christian history. . . .

  54. 54
    Brigitte April 24, 2008 at 5:41 am #

    HONgreeeeee!

    I find that a cajun spice mix of some kind will cover up many fishy sins.

  55. 55
    Kate April 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm #

    Mmmm…hushpuppies! I miss the south! What’s bad is that they are great with several different condiments…butter, honey butter, ketchup and, my personal fav, very horseradishy cocktail sauce. Unnecessary extra calories, yeah, but worth it!

  56. 56
    Lady M April 24, 2008 at 10:53 pm #

    hahahah! Deep fryed anything is truly miraculousnous, to coin a new word.

  57. 57
    Carolyn E April 25, 2008 at 1:01 am #

    I want to hear your conversion story too, but I fully appreciate the magnitude of a good hush puppy recipe.

    I’m going to try it. Then I will be mother of the year around here. Seriously.

  58. 58
    Susan April 27, 2008 at 6:54 pm #

    Sure, you tempt us with hush puppies and then don’t provide your home address. I see how you operate.

  59. 59
    Zuska April 28, 2008 at 12:54 pm #

    Ah, yes. Well since MY Sunday night deep fry story ended with a broken mercury thermometer, a freak-out about how much mercury we might have ingested before we realized the thermometer broke, and a scheduled appointment with the local HAZMAT team to investigate whether the resulting mercury vapors in my house are too high to be considered safe for habitation, an overabundance of hush puppies sounds like a better problem to have right about now…

  60. 60
    LoriK from TX April 28, 2008 at 5:09 pm #

    My favorite recipe for hushpuppies is made with Jiffy. Use the egg it calls for on the box, and add about half a small jar of Picante sauce, and about half a can of cream style corn – enough to make the consistency right. Just leave out the milk the recipe calls for and the liquid from the other two ingredients will make up for it. Fry them and then Oh, my LORD, load them up with butter and you won’t even care about eating the fish!

  61. 61
    Shauna May 1, 2008 at 12:32 pm #

    love some pups!!!! yummm…..

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