The Food Almanac: Thursday, August 1, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Catfish Month!
Kimberly Vardeman

Today's Flavor
August is National Catfish Month. Catfish is like nothing else in the seafood world. If you have a recipe or a hankering for catfish, and there is no catfish, you just have to put your plans on hold until you do.

Although members of the catfish family are found throughout most of the world, the South has the two or three best varieties. We also have the country's largest catfish farming area--around Yazoo City in northern Mississippi. That puts a great deal of farm-raised catfish into our markets and restaurants.

A bit too much, I'd say. Farm-raised catfish never reaches the excellence that the best wild catfish boasts. The best catfish is smaller than what the farms like to raise, and has a cleaner flavor.

In my opinion, no method of cooking catfish beats simply coating it with seasoned cornmeal and frying it. The only improvements come from marinating the fish briefly in the likes of mustard, hot sauce, Worcestershire, or lemon. If you find yourself with large catfish fillets, slice them with a very sharp knife on the bias into smaller, thinner pieces for a cleaner, better flavor.

Fried catfish requires no sauce, either; you can eat it like popcorn. That's impossible if the fish is too thick, or coated in too coarse a meal. The best coating is a mixture of corn meal and corn flour with salt and Creole seasoning. Then all you need is a pan of oil at 375 degrees, some paper towels, and you're a minute away from enjoying some of the world's finest seafood eating.

Food Around The World
This is the anniversary of the Swiss Confederation in 1291--the beginning of Switzerland as we know it. This is the country's national day. What should we do? Eat Swiss cheese? If so, make sure it's really Swiss cheese. Drink Swiss wine? If you can find it. What wines is made in Switzerland is mostly drunk in Switzerland.

Food In Show Biz
This was the birthday, in 1941, of Jerry Garcia, a legendary figure in rock music and most recognizable member of the Grateful Dead. The Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor Cherry Garcia is an homage to his memory. . . Speaking of portly guys with beards, today is Dom DeLuise's birthday: 1933. Nobody has ever seen him and Paul Prudhomme in the same place at the same time. Could it be. . . ?

Hooch Through History
The Whiskey Rebellion began today in 1791. The good old boys in the Appalachians--then the frontier of the United States--objected to having to pay nine cents a gallon tax on their hooch. They attacked and harassed tax collectors until George Washington, leading a militia of 13,000 soldiers personally, put the revolt down. The highly unpopular tax--instituted by Alexander Hamilton to pay off debts from the Revolutionary War--only lasted another decade. It was the first taxpayer revolt in the new country, and the first threat to Federal power.

Annals Of Motel Dining
The first Holiday Inn opened, outside Memphis, on this day in 1952. It turned the motel concept into a unique brand, advertising "the best surprise is no surprise." Stevie Wonder once said he liked Holiday Inns because all their rooms were exactly the same. These days, the motel concept is moving towards extinction, and Holiday Inn and its like are heading ever upscale. All but the very cheap ones now more resemble classic hotels. They even have food, which most of them did not even as late as the 1980s. But don't get your hopes up. Good food is still beyond the horizon.

Inventions In Eating
Shredded wheat was invented on this date in 1893. It took two guys to do it. But who really cares?. . . Joseph Priestley, who was indeed a minister, discovered oxygen today in 1774. Thank God.

Bad Moments In Dining
Today in 10 BC, the future fourth Roman Emperor, Claudius, was born. He was allegedly killed by poison mushrooms fed to him by his wife Agrippina, to allow Nero to assume the purple.

Annals Of Candy
The Mars Bar was introduced today in 1932, in Europe. It was nearly identical to what we call the Milky Way. The American Mars Bar, which came later, was different, with almonds instead of peanuts and a darker chocolate coating. As for me, when I think of Mars Bar I think of a seedy lounge I saw once in Chicago.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Cornbread Branch is a little Kentucky creek running through the rolling farmland seventy-five miles north of Knoxville, Tennessee, just over the Kentucky line. It's the kind of creek from which people used to dip "branch water" for making drinks with Bourbon whiskey. Trying to find restaurants nearby, I found they were all in Williamsburg, five miles up State Highway 92. And that they were all chains: Long John Silver's, Krystal, Subway, Huddle House, Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Arby's, and McDonald's. I believe we've found the worst place to eat in America!

Edible Dictionary
gazpacho, [Spanish], n.--A cool to cold soup made mostly with tomatoes, with other savory herbs and crunchy vegetables to give a distinctive fresh, tangy flavor. It has been called (but I can't seem to track down who did it first) a "liquid salad." It was born in Andalucia, in southern Spain, and from there spread across the country and into Portugal. In its homeland, it is more likely to be a rough puree, thickened with bread. In our country, it's almost always served chunky, with cucumbers and peppers as common ingredients, and no thickener. The recipe seems to have existed in Spain before the tomato was brought back from the New World by Columbus, and transformed by that vegetable.

Deft Dining Rule #405
Of all things fried to a golden brown, that color brings the most pleasure when seen on fried catfish.

Food Namesakes
Mervyn Kitchen, a famous cricket player, was born today in 1940. . . Classical conductor Oskar Fried was born today in 1871. . .Helen Sawyer Hogg, a Canadian astronomer, was born today in 1901.

Words To Eat By
"Fish should smell like the tide. Once they smell like fish, it's too late."--Oscar Gizelt, long-time manager of Delmonico in New York.

Words To Drink By
"I love everything that 's old--old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine."--Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer.

Related Links
Sandwich of the Week: Spitzer's Fried White Catfish SandwichCooking with Catfish During Its Honorary Month