Today is National Hush Puppy Day. Hush puppies are an important part of a well-balanced mess of fried catfish. We see them on other fried seafood platters too. Most of the time the role of hush puppies is strictly as cheap filler, and that's probably how they came to be in the first place.
The story (no idea whether it's true) is that the cook carrying food from the kitchen across the courtyard to the dining room of the main house had to do so with dogs running underfoot. To quiet them, she made some of the coating for the fish or chicken into a ball, fried it up, and threw it to the dogs. They, of course, went running after it.
Hush puppies can be raised to a higher level. By incorporating onions, bell peppers, parsley, and perhaps some fresh corn, and a little jalapeño, one comes out with a hush puppy that stands alone. The best hush puppies I ever ate were and are at Cuevas's Fish House, an all-you-can-eat fried whole catfish place near Picayune, Miss.
Deft Dining Rule #404
No catfish recipe, no matter how involved or careful, will match the goodness of fried catfish with a crisp, golden-brown, cornmeal coating.
Catfish, N.C. is in farm country 58 miles north of Charlotte. A school of substantial size is there. It's a mile to Lookout Dam on the Catawba River, which forms an enormous reservoir where you would imagine more than a few catfish live. No catfish restaurants are in the area, unless that's on the menu at Rock Barn Lyle Creek Grill, three miles away.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
The best way to coat catfish (or anything) with cornmeal for frying is to put the seasoned meal into a big, round-bottomed bowl, toss in a few pieces of fish in, and shake the bowl around until everything's coated. If you get good at this, it looks dramatic.