Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rock Bass, Fillet-o-Fish, and An Attempt at Southern Cooking

I know that ya'll are gearing up for your 4th of July weekend festivities, but I'd like to take a little trip down memory lane back to Memorial Day weekend for a few moments. That's when my husband went fishing with our backyard neighbor, Anthony, and brought home a whole mess of fish for me to clean.

Here's their haul....all of them Rock Bass. I assume that they call them Rock Bass because they hang out in the rocks. However, I happen to know that these Rock Bass were caught directly in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Lake Eerie. So maybe these are Rock n' Roll Bass? Too cool for the school? Okay, okay, I'll quit with the jokes now.

They reportedly caught about 50 fish that day. Some of them larger breeds of fish, but they only brought home the tasty Rock Bass. Thank goodness they didn't bring them all back to me. I'd probably still be cleaning fish instead of typing this. The cumulative total of my two fish cleaning sessions was 4 hours!

Some of my girlfriends seemed surprised when I told them that I cleaned my husband's catch. "You cleaned them?! I wouldn't even know where to begin." I usually don't share that I'm capable of "cleaning" at least two other species beyond fish. It makes people squeamish. However, if I ever audition for Survivor or find myself stranded on a desert island, it's a skill that might come in handy.

The truth is, I did a lot of fishing when I was a kid. My mom's parents had 3 ponds on their property and my dad's parents lived on a lake. I spent a good deal of time watching my grandmas clean fish and playing "assistant". A couple of summers ago, after we moved to Ohio, my husband purchased fishing poles for himself and my daughter. After a few fishing outings, I decided that I had better brush up on my fish cleaning skills. I consulted my Grandma Shirley. She patiently taught me how to fillet our catch. Then, on a trip to the Smoky Mountains that summer, I purchased a fillet knife of my very own at The Bass Pro Shop. I was set! Then a year went by and those fishing poles collected dust...until this past Memorial Day weekend. Needless to say, my fish cleaning skills had gotten a little rusty again when this challenge was placed in front of me. If you'd like to learn how to fillet a bass, or just need a refresher course, check out THIS youtube video. This guy is much faster than I am!

Lucky me, they brought the fish home completely alive. My neighbor pulled his boat trailer up to our driveway and tossed the fish into my cooler from the live well in his boat. I put them on ice and told them to "chill". Rock bass are spunky! My kids were fascinated as I wielded my knife and the fish flopped about on my cutting board.

Here I am, making a fillet cut.

This is me: Slayer of Fish. Check out my awesome fish monger apron. It didn't help anything. Fish juice still soaked through and made my tank quite stinky. My advice: go vinyl!

Rock bass are bigger than a bluegill, but smaller than a small or large mouth bass. My opinion when it comes to fish is "the bigger the better". I like to fillet mine and to fillet a smaller fish like this is time consuming AND tricky!

Well, clearly not that tricky...I can do it with my eyes closed. See?

Mmmm. I know that I've mentioned how much I love sushi.

With his boat put away, my neighbor dropped in while I was cleaning these. He mentioned that his father-in-law just wrapped his catch in newspaper and put them in the freezer until he was ready clean them. He noted that the newspaper soaked up the fish slime, making them easier to clean later. By this time, I'd been at it for a while, the grill was fired up for burgers and hotdogs, and our cookout guests had just arrived. Suddenly, this was the best idea I'd ever heard! I individually wrapped each whole fish in newspaper, sealed them in a big freezer bag and stashed them away in the basement freezer. I have to admit, I felt a little like a serial killer in doing this.

The next day, we took the fish that I had cleaned over to a friend's house and fried it as an appetizer while they barbecued some delicious ribs. I decided to try breading it a couple of different ways. First, dredged in a seasoned flour.

And also, rolled in Panko.

Then I heated a mixture of oil and butter in their griddle and fried it all up.

It was delicious! We ate it hot, with a sprinkle of salt, right off of plates lined with paper towel. Some of us dipped in tartar sauce. Some sprinkled with malt vinegar, but everyone enjoyed it. The hands down favorite breading? PANKO! It made for a really nice, light, crispy crust.

That was Memorial Day weekend. Today, I grabbed that bag of newspaper-wrapped fish out of my freezer, determined to fillet it for the perfect Southern-style dinner. I've been away from my kitchen for 5 days. I was ready for a project!

It's a good thing...because this was quite a project. I immediately tried to unwrap a fish and get started. Um...the newspaper was stuck fast and the fish was frozen too solid for my knife to penetrate.

Duh. I needed to let them thaw a bit. So here are my 9 fish corpses in their newspaper burial shrouds, coming up to an acceptable cleaning temperature.

Here's one of the Rock Bass pictured with my fancy-schmancy Bass Pro Shop fillet knife. Actually, it cost less than 10 bucks and it does a great job. The thin, flexible blade is what sets fillet knives apart from other kitchen knives.

Here's my first fillet of the day. Free of skin, scales, and bone...just the way I like it. I mentioned that Rock Bass are tricky to fillet, right? Did I mention that they have a double ribcage? My whole goal in cleaning a fish is to get the best product with the least amount of waste. That ribcage throws me off, fish after fish.

Give me back that fillet-o-fish, give me that fish...

After I cleaned them, I rinsed the fillets under cold water, feeling for bones. Then I tossed them into a bowl of salt water...just like my grandma taught me.

I put the fish in the fridge and set about preparing the side dishes for tonight's dinner. I had big plans for a Southern-style dinner.

When it was time to make the fish, I pulled out a recipe for Oven-Fried Catfish from Cooking Light magazine. Marinated in hot sauce and beer, I figured that this would be a way to prepare fish that my husband might enjoy. Plus, it's baked not fried. All of the pleasure, none of the guilt : )

I used Frank's Red Hot and an inexpensive light beer.

Mix half of a cup of each together and then marinate the fish for 30 minutes.

For the breading, mix together cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, and pepper.

Remove the fish from the marinade and pat dry with paper towel.

Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture. Place it on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (I lined mine with foil first for easy clean up)and bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.

Here's dinner. Oven-Fried Catfish, Jalapeno Cornbread, and Black-eyed Pea Salad. I'd like to brag about it, but I can't.

Between 2007 and 2009 we lived just south of Atlanta, Georgia. We decided to take advantage of our new surroundings and visit the sights around our Georgia home. We visited places like Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, FDR's Little White House in Warm Springs, The Road to Tara Museum and Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro, West Point Lake in Lagrange, and of course, Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain, GA. On many of these outings we stopped to sample the local fare: barbecue, fried chicken and catfish, greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread, puddings...and my all time favorite, Shrimp and Grits! Our time in Georgia awakened my love for down-home Southern cooking.

With fish on hand, I decided to go for a Southern dinner to rival those roadside diners that we had visited on our weekend outings. I remembered seeing an article in the July 2001 issue of Cooking Light titled, "Catfish, reconsidered" that featured accompaniments such as Jalapeno Cornbread and Black-eyed Pea Salad. Yesterday, I dug it out of my archives. My first mistake might have been consulting Cooking Light for Southern cooking. It's kind of an oxymoron. Cooking Light....Southern Cooking? I should've known better. I should've consulted Southern Living. And I know that I was working with Rock Bass and not Catfish, but I figured one fresh water fish was as good as the next.

I'm pretty sure that the fish was not the problem here. It was really delicious when fried in oil and butter. Delicate and flaky, not too fishy. But the coating on this recipe was kind of hard and dry. The flavor wasn't great either. I think I was the most annoyed about this failure because I spent all that time cleaning the fish.

And the cornbread? Well, it was just okay. Certainly not inedible, but not out-of-this world either. I couldn't really taste the jalapeno and I wrestled between thoughts of smothering it in honey or whipping up a batch of ham and beans so that I could use it for sopping.

There was one bright spot in the meal: this Black-Eyed Pea Salad saved the day! I enjoyed this salad so much that I'm going to give it a post of it's own tomorrow.

Here's the recipe. Maybe you can improve upon it. For starters, I'd heat a big ol' skillet with oil and fry it. But then, it wouldn't be "light" anymore, now would it?

Oven-Fried Catfish from Cooking Light July 2001

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 fillet)

1/2 cup light beer
1/2 cup hot sauce
4 (6-ounce) farm-raised catfish fillets
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes. Remove fish from bag; pat dry with paper towels. Discard marinade.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Combine cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge fish in cornmeal mixture.

Lightly coat fish with cooking spray. Place fish on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and bake at 450° for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

CALORIES 296 (27% from fat); FAT 8.8g (sat 1.9g,mono 3.1g,poly 2.5g); IRON 2.8mg; CHOLESTEROL 99mg; CALCIUM 74mg; CARBOHYDRATE 17.7g; SODIUM 361mg; PROTEIN 32.8g; FIBER 1.1g


chow and chatter said...

looks very tasty and you are so cute

Reeni said...

You rock Krista! That is such a great skill to have - I am squeamish about it - wish I wasn't! The fish looks really delicious - especially the first batch of fried. Happy 4th! Have a wonderful weekend!

Deanne said...

I have oven fried fish before, but used a plain breading of cornmeal mix . Also - I have stopped lining my cooking pans with foil and started using parchment paper. I have always been squeamish about cooking with aluminium, and have really been happy subbing parchment. You ought to try it!!

I love your blog - frequent reader, first time comment (I think!)

Kim said...

Great job filleting that fish Krista! That's awesome:) I really like the idea of marinating the fish in the hot sauce and beer, it sounds really good. I'm sorry to hear that it wasn't your favorite though, especially after all your hard work.

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