Joni Woolf: Fried catfish and all the trimmings

Published 1:57 pm Saturday, August 26, 2017

Today is Women’s Equality Day, celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18,1920, giving women the right to vote. The date of Aug. 26 was chosen in 1971, celebrating not only the right to vote, but acknowledging the achievements of women in fields where their participation had been forbidden or at least discouraged. So, in celebration (or observance) of the day, I’m suggesting turning the kitchen — or the outdoor cooker — over to the men to prepare one of my favorite meals, and I’m sure the favorite of many readers. A recent trip to Daphne’s Lodge in Crisp County reminded me what a treat fried catfish can be, and how much I had missed having them on a regular basis since the death of my first husband “Bubber” Woolf. He built his own cooker, featuring gas burners for two large cooking pans, and he entertained friends and family while preparing fish and hushpuppies. We worked on the hushpuppy recipe over the years, never writing anything down; it was a continuous experiment. Now my daughter Carey makes her daddy’s hushpuppies (women DO play a part) while her husband Marshall cooks the fish. Accompanied by a hearty coleslaw, it is a perfect meal.

For the fish:
Buy dressed catfish. Or go fishing and clean them yourself. Use small ones.
Heat peanut oil in large skillet or deep fryer to 350 degrees F. While oil heats, place two cups corn meal in a brown paper bag, adding a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper (or to taste). Place catfish in bag, a few at a time, and shake several times, carefully. When oil is hot, drop several pieces of fish into the oil and cook quickly, usually turning only once (10 minutes or so). When nicely browned, remove and repeat with another round of fish. Drain on a wire rack or on brown bags.

For the hushpuppies:
Mix two cups white, self-rising cornmeal with two slightly beaten egg whites, one large or two small onions finely chopped, and enough beer to make a smooth batter. It should be stiff enough to maintain shape in a tablespoon that is used to drop each hushpuppy into the hot grease. One of the secrets in cooking fried foods is to let the grease return to its maximum heat after each round of cooking. These are light and delicious, and after you’ve played with the recipe a few times, you’ll get it just right.

Now add coleslaw. Here’s a slightly different recipe from ones I have previously featured. I like it and hope you will, too.

Mardi Gras Slaw
2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups shredded white cabbage
2 cups grated peeled carrots
½ cup minced purple onion
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon prepared Dijon-style mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Toss both kinds of cabbage, the grated carrots and minced onion together in a large bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, sugar and mustard; season to taste with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil to form a fairly thick and creamy dressing. Taste and correct seasoning as necessary. Pour half of the dressing over the vegetables in the bowl. Sprinkle on the caraway seeds and toss well. Taste, add additional dressing if you like. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours. Allow to return to room temperature before serving.

Now get out the plates and lots of napkins, thank the men for standing over the hot cooker, pour some iced tea or grab a cold beer and sit down to enjoy one fine meal. Once in a while, there’s nothing better.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at