Des Allemands is a small community about 35 minutes southeast of New Orleans, situated along a bayou of the same name. Settled in 1721 by resourceful German immigrants, it has become known as the “Catfish Capital of the Universe,” due to the prolific wild catfish fishery, which produces fish that are distinct in their small size, firm in flesh and mild in flavor. In this recipe, the catfish actually get’s lightly cured before smoking, which will slightly change the texture of the fish.
Our local fishermen, shrimpers and crawfish producers have had a very hard time over the past couple of decades competing with cheap imports from China, Vietnam, India and other countries. In spite of clear evidence of substantial quantities seafood contaminated with dangerous bacteria, tainted with antibiotics and other toxic substances, the USDA still only inspects about 2% of imports. By eating local seafood, not only are you helping your local economy and fishers, but you and your family are eating verifiably safer, fresher, more nutritious food.
This recipe makes about 20 fritters.
2 lbs smoked Des Allemands catfish fillets
2 cups chilled mashed potatoes (no butter, cream or milk added)
1/4 cup Scallions
2 tbsp Italian parsley (chopped)
3 large eggs
2 tbsp garlic (minced)
1 poblano pepper (finely minced)
1 Scotch bonnet or serrano pepper (optional, finely minced)
3 tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup sea salt for curing catfish
1/2 cup of cassava (or corn) meal *
Rice bran or other vegetable oil for deep frying
Preparing the Catfish
Wash and pat dry the catfish fillets. Cover them evenly and generously with 1/2 cup sea salt place them in a pyrex bread loaf dish, layering as needed. Place plastic wrap over dish and apply a 1+ lb weight to the top, distributing the weight as evenly as possible. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours, then pour any excess liquid out. Sprinkle the remainder of the sea salt on the fillets and refrigerate for another 6-8 hours. After pouring off any excess liquid and patting the fillets dry, they are ready for the smoker.
Use a wood which imparts a subtle flavor, such as pecan or alder. Smoking times depend on the device you’re using. A stove-top smoker could take as little as 15 minutes on medium heat while a vertical charcoal smoker could take up to an hour or more. Make sure the fish is cooked thoroughly, and firm to the touch.
Brown the garlic in olive oil and add (including the oil) to the mashed potatoes. Flake the fish into very small pieces and fold it into the mixture, along with the other ingredients. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. The consistency should be thick enough that it stands up on its own, without spreading out.
Using a tablespoon, form into 2-ounce elongated football-shaped portions (about three
inches long, and dust with cassava or corn meal. Deep fry at 360 degrees for approximately 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on butcher paper or paper towels.
Serve with your favorite hot sauce, Caribbean-style and vinegar-based sauces pair particularly well.
If you live in or around New Orleans, you can find Des Allemands catfish at the Tuesday Crescent City Farmer’s Market at Jeannie Fonseca’s booth, Des Allemands Outlaw Catfish Co.. If you you’re not from the area it’d e preferable to use wild-caught catfish or other fish from a clean clear water source. Cassava meal can often be found at Brazilian or African groceries, and will often be referred to as “farina de manioca” or “garri.” Again, corn meal can be substituted for cassava meal.