Friday, March 15, 2024

Old Friends and Catfish Stew

Back in the 1970s, we lived in Cleveland, MS, where I worked for Baxter Healthcare. During our time in Cleveland, we became friends with a "good old Cleveland boy" and his family. He was a faithful husband, father, welder, frog grabber, fisherman, feral pig and deer hunter, and stew maker, although maybe not in that exact order.

I will start this recipe post by remembering days in Cleveland, MS during the 1970s, and sharing memories of an old friend.

One weekend, my 1970s Cleveland friend and his wife invited us to a family BBQ at their fishing camp cabin on Beulah Lake, which is on the river side of the levee, west of Beulah, MS. He had killed a small wild hog and planned on cooking a hind quarter for his cousin family, and for us, "If we wanted to come by the camp around lunch next Saturday."

Beulah Lake, as with all of the Ox-bow lakes up and down the Mississippi River is an old section of the river channel that became a lake when the river channel changed, leaving the bypassed sections behind as lakes, usually closed at the upper end and sometimes open to the river at the lower end by what is called an Ox-bow chute. When the river is up, water flows into the ox-bow from the river. causing the lake level to rise and when the river drops, water from the lake flows back into the river through the chute until the chute dries up, the water exit stops, and the lake waits patiently for the next rise in the river. There is one common characteristic about ox-bows. They are full of crappy, bass, bream, and catfish. Snakes, too, but that needs to be saved for another post.

I'm not trying to complicate things too much, but my friend's cousin was also my cousin, just on the other side of the family. So, my friend and I weren't really related, just good friends, as was the case with him and about half of the folks in Cleveland, MS. Anyhow, my wife, the kids, and I showed up a little before lunch that day and before too long, were eating some tasty tater salad and the best BBQed wild pig hind quarter meat ever. 

After lunch he pointed to his flat bottom, tied to the pier jutting out into Beulah Lake and asked our co-cousin and me if we would like to go help him run his catfish net while the wives watched the kids and talked about quilting, bunco strategies, quantum physics, or whatever. Five minutes later, we were headed three miles down the lake toward the chute that feeds water into and out of the ox-bow lake, depending on the level of the river, The chute was the location of his hoop net. The lake water had been moving out from the lake into the river via the Beulah chute for a week and he guided his boat down the lake with the confidence of a man who had caught many catfish in his hoop net over the years.

An hour later, we were headed back toward the camp, with over a hundred catfish his legally tagged hoop net had harvested from Beulah Lake over the previous few days.

We skinned, cleaned, and filleted catfish for the next few hours and then delivered all but a portion he put on ice, to a fish house on Boliver Lake and a grocer in Cleveland.

We were back at the camp house the next day for a true "all you can eat" fried catfish lunch, followed by catfish stew, made with leftover fried fillets for fish camp dinner that night.

My friend was a good guy, who would drive his welding equipment truck out to meet a farmer in the middle of an unplanted field at 4:00 am or 9:00 pm to weld repairs on a broken disk or the broken shank on a subsoil plow. During harvest season, he was willing to work on a combine all night long to get someone back into the field so they could continue harvesting their beans when the dew dried the next morning. In addition to all of that, the guy could catch fish with his commercial licensed hoop nets or trot lines like no one I have ever known. He also loved hand grabbing frogs from local cypress slews, and harvesting as many feral hogs as the Loins Club might want for their Hog Dinner fundraiser roast. His freezer ran over with smoked deer sausage. His wife and kids loved him, and I never met anyone who did not like him. Surely, goodness and mercy followed him all the days of his life. (RIP Dale).

Here is my version of his recipe for Catfish Stew, still good after so many years.


2-3 large fried Catfish Fillets (Maybe 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup of bacon pieces – For Lent, leave them out and replace with butter
2 cups red potatoes, cut into 3/4 to 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large tomato, peeled and diced
2 ears corn
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup compound butter with cilantro
1 Tablespoon Creole/Cajun Seasoning
a little garlic, salt, and pepper

If I am able, rather than frying my catfish, I just buy some gas station fried catfish fillets, which are always available here. The only difference in our recipes is my catfish are delta farm raised and Dale always served lake grown (wild caught) fish. 

I usually add a dash or two of hot sauce or a dusting of red cayenne pepper to my gas station fried fish help flavor the dish. To get started, break the catfish into suitable pieces and set aside.

Cut the corn from the cob, peel and dice the tomato and potatoes and set aside.

Cook the bacon until it is crisp and set aside. Save the fat for use in the stew.

Chop the onion and celery and sauté them until tender in the bacon fat, or if not using bacon in your stew (a mistake), cook them in a little butter with some Olive oil added. 

When the vegetables are tender, add two cups of chicken broth, the corn cobs, a Tablespoon of Creole/Cajun seasoning and a quarter cup of compound butter. 

After cooking the cobs for twenty or thirty minutes, remove them and add the cut-up potatoes to the broth, with a Tablespoon of parsley, a Tablespoon of Worcestershire, two bay leaves and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Cook this until the potatoes are almost tender and then add the tomatoes and the corn you cut off of the cobs.

Cook until the corn is done (maybe 10 minutes) and the stew has thickened somewhat. The tomatoes will not be fully cooked, but that is how I do my stew. Finish by adding the other quarter cup of butter. Taste for seasoning and add a touch of salt and black pepper if needed. 

Add the catfish and bacon.

Serve with butter toasted French bread.

This dish does not freeze well. Cook what you can eat, then eat all that you have cooked.

Thanks for looking at my post.

God Bless You


Anonymous said...

Tell us about boiling the corncobs?

Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

3:13 PM

A corn cob stock is a good way to add flavor to any corn stew or soup. I usually cut the kernels off the cob and then boil the cobs in lightly seasoned broth. you get a very flavorful broth with lots of corn flavor.

Anonymous said...

This is a new concept to me. If I ever have leftover fried catfish, I certainly will make this dish. We usually devour every fish fillet soon after cooking them.

I save corn cobs and freeze them until I accumulate enough to make a batch of broth. I do the same with shrimp, crab and lobster shells for seafood stock, and chicken backbones and miscellaneous parts to make chicken stock. I love staying home on a cold, blustery day and making several kinds of stock, all simmering away on the stove. Having plenty of homemade stock or broth stashed in the freezer is a good thing!

Thank you, as always, Mr. Bear.

Anonymous said...

Fishing In The Southeast - Rule # 4: It is considered an abomination to do anything with catfish other than fry them.

Anonymous said...

I truly appreciate the photos. It helps me follow the instructions much better.
Yeah, I get the eye-rolls, but I just lost my wife. I'm an old fart who is learning to cook.

Anonymous said...

More Zero Poly Bear and less Sid and Crawford!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that he posts clear simple instructions, which, combined with lots of photos, tell us that aren't chefs what "diced" and "peeled" looks like in both appearance and sizing. He keeps it clear. So many blogs are short on information and long on style. And I like the recipes being from stuff we have on hand or can get easily. Tasty too. Many fond memories of my Mom and Dad and Grandparents making things I have missed. Thank you ZPB.

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