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Pecan Catfish with Banana Pepper Sauce

Pecan Catfish with Banana Pepper Sauce
Mississippi is the catfish capital of the world, raising more of this low-fat, firm-textured whitefish than any other place. Here, typical Southern ingredients?buttermilk, cornmeal, pecans and banana peppers?complement the fish.

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup pecan halves, plus more for garnish
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 banana chili, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs. chopped sweet pickle relish
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • 6 catfish fillets, each about 6 oz.
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco or other hot-pepper sauce
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Peanut oil for deep-frying
  • Lemon wedges for garnish

Directions:

To make the sauce, preheat an oven to 400°F. Spread all the pecans on a baking sheet and toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and aromatic, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

In a food processor, pulse 1 cup of the cooled pecans just until they resemble coarse meal. Do not overprocess. Remove all but 1/4 cup of the pecan meal and set aside. Add the mayonnaise, shallot, banana chili, pickle relish, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the food processor. Pulse until well blended but still somewhat chunky. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rinse the fish fillets and pat dry with paper towels. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs and Tabasco. In another shallow bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, reserved pecan meal, salt and pepper. Dip each fillet into the buttermilk mixture, then coat evenly with the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Place on the prepared baking sheet.

In a large, heavy fry pan or deep fryer, pour in oil to a depth of 1 inch and heat to 360°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Working in batches if necessary, fry the fillets, turning once, until golden brown and opaque throughout, about 3 minutes per side. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep warm until all the fillets are cooked. Transfer the fillets to warmed individual plates. Garnish with lemon wedges and pecan halves. Pass the chilled sauce at the table.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma New American Cooking Series, The South, by Roy Overton (Time-Life Books, 2000).