the appetizer:

Bon Appetit, Y'all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, presents classic recipes from the American South, including French Toast Casserole; Grits with Corn and Vidalia Onion; and Fried Catfish Fingers with Country Rémoulade.

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Fried Catfish Fingers
with Country Rémoulade

Serves 4 to 6

Fried Catfish Fingers with Country Rémoulade


The culinary wonder of deep-fried turkey was invented in the South. Just goes to show you that Southerners will fry anything. I do have the set-up for frying turkey, but use it far more often for frying fish. The fish fry is right up on the list of orchestrated Southern feasts, along with the "pig pull" and "dinner on the grounds." It's a great party and wildly different from throwing a few burgers on the grill. And fried fish are just flat-out good.

My grandparents met at a fish fry in 1935 and were inseparable through nearly 65 years of marriage. They were a great team, but there was no doubt who was the boss. For as long as I can remember, they had a motor home. They drove as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and to Fairbanks at the far end of the Alaska Highway, where they caught a small plane to the North Pole. I was able to take several long trips with them when I was young. Once the three of us drove north, through Detroit into Canada, east to Nova Scotia, where we caught the ferry to Newfoundland. We were on the one main road in Newfoundland to St. John's and were about halfway across the island when Meme looked at my grandfather and said, "Sam, pull over in that gas station. I'm ready to go home." He did, and we did.

Line a plate or baking sheet with paper towels and set by the cooktop.

In a large bowl, stir together the mustard, egg white, and hot sauce. Add the fish and toss to coat well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

In a shallow dish, combine the cornmeal and flour and season with salt and pepper. Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, deep fryer, or Dutch oven, filling it no more than one-third full. Heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches to 350°F on deep-fat thermometer.

Remove the fish from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture to coat both sides and shake off the excess. Carefully add the fish to the oil, a few pieces at a time. Cook until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with rémoulade.


Country Rémoulade

Makes about 1-3/4 cups

Rémoulade is a cold French sauce made with mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, capers, and various herbs, and is very similar to American-style tartar sauce. It's important the onions and celery are very finely chopped. It is a dip, not a salad.

To cut the celery, first cut the stalk into even, manageable lengths. Then cut into very thin matchsticks, line them up like little soldiers and slice across in thin cuts to make small perfect dice.

In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, celery, green onions, chives, garlic, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Serve chilled.


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This page created September 2008