Friday, October 3, 2014

Chicken-Fried Catfish

I've always been intrigued by the concept of "Chicken-fried". Google searches will direct you to some information (mostly recipes and a Zac Brown Band song) but long before Google existed it was just a Cracker Barrel fantasy. Summers between elementary school semesters en route to Central Florida, I was often more excited about Cracker Barrel than Disney World. The two dishes I would order the most were catfish and country-fried steak ("chicken" & "country" being interchangeable in this context). Although I'm unsure if chicken-frying is in reference to cooking steak in the same oil used to fry chicken, or if simply the application of breading and frying a steak was similar to the way fried chicken was prepared, I've realized that no one seems to have the answer*. Why should they? It's too delicious to quibble over semantics. 

This week I figured I would take this loose interpretation into my own hands by actually using chicken as a crust for catfish. After crisping chicken skins in the oven until they are brittle and golden, I blended them with potato flakes & breadcrumbs for a more literal 'chicken-fry'.

For the chicken skin:
Preheat oven to 350ºF
Spread skins flat onto a sheet pan
Place another sheet pan on top, sandwiching the skins between the two pans.
(this will prevent the skins from curling and allow them to cook evenly)
Place the sandwiched skins in the oven for 15-20 mins or until crispy throughout.
Remove from oven and remove the top sheet pan; let the skins cool.
At this point you can keep the skins in an airtight container if not using right away. It also makes for an addictive snack; essentially chicken chicharrones, so you could eat them as is if you wish.

For the breading:
Break the chicken skin up into a blender with potato flakes, breadcrumbs, black peppercorns and salt. You can be liberal with the peppercorns, you want the breading to taste of black pepper.
Blend to fully mix all ingredients evenly.
The measurements weren't specific, I just made sure it looked like it would adhere well to the fish during cooking. The fat from the chicken skins will help bind the dry ingredients. If you don't have potato flakes, you can just use chicken skin and breadcrumbs.

For the catfish:
Set up three dishes side by side, each being large enough to fit a catfish fillet
Fill the first dish with flour
Fill the second dish with one beaten egg
Fill the third dish with the chicken skin breading
Season the catfish fillets lightly with salt on both sides (remember the breading is also seasoned)
Dip the fish first in the flour, then the egg, then breadcrumbs
Heat fat or oil (preferably chicken fat or bacon grease) in a heavy bottomed pan to medium high heat (350ºF if deep frying). 
Fry catfish on both sides until crisp and golden.

*I have a theory that chicken-frying originated in the 19th century from the abundance of beef to chicken in certain parts of the U.S., much like pork is to "City Chicken".