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Catfish swimming its way to school lunches

Thursday, April 25, 2002

By Nancy Anderson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Don't tell the kids but $6 million worth of breaded catfish is headed for school cafeterias. Sounds fishy to me. Everyone knows second-graders have severe standards when it comes to eating.

Fearful suspicion is cast upon all foods not found on their basic list of acceptable foods (the adventuresome eater has at least four) to ingest without anxiety or ketchup.

Who would foist catfish on these bastions of the bland?

Well, the government has to do something with the $6 million worth of breaded catfish it's bought to help out the sagging catfish industry.

Seems that catfish importers from Southeast Asia are muscling in on lucrative American farm-raised catfish sales. (At our store, fillets were going for $5.99 a pound.)

Vietnam, for example, labeled its catfish "Delta Fresh" and Americans fell for it hook, line and sinker.

No one knew it was the Mekong Delta.

The Senate got involved in this murky issue last December and voted not to allow Vietnamese catfish to be called catfish.

Instead they're to be called "basa," which should decrease sales dramatically. Who wants to serve the boss basa, Delta Fresh or not?

Meanwhile, can catfish be made palatable for picky young eaters?

We went to the Catfish Institute's Web site and searched for recipes with a 7-year-old's eye.

It looked hopeless -- Whole Sizzling Catfish With Ginger and Ponzu Sauce, Burmese Catfish Bowl, Grilled Lemon Grass Catfish with Hoisin-Ginger Sauce -- until Catfish Nuggets jumped off the computer page.

But chicken nuggets are a beloved food of every kid in the neighborhood under 10. They can be eaten with fingers, dipped into ketchup or mashed potatoes and chewed quickly and don't taste "funny."

The school kids -- and the taxpayers -- may be wondering if the big catfish buy is a $6 million mistake. Before they decide, maybe they should try these nuggets.

Catfish Nuggets With Dipping Mustard Sauce

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
2 pounds U.S. farm-raised catfish fillets, cut into 1-inch nuggets
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Mix cornmeal, salt and oregano in a shallow dish or on a piece of wax paper. Mix milk and egg in another shallow dish.

Dip catfish nuggets into the milk mixture, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture, tossing to coat.

Fill a large skillet half full of vegetable oil and heat to 350 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer. Add nuggets to the hot oil and fry, working in batches, until golden brown, turning to cook evenly on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with Dipping Mustard Sauce.

Dipping Mustard Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup dry mustard (yes, 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 egg yolks

In a small heavy saucepan, mix sugar and mustard. Stir in vinegar and egg yolks. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk, for 10 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until chilled (we were serving the nuggets momentarily so we skipped this step). Before serving, let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes.

The Catfish Institute

Www.catfishinstitute.com has dozens of recipes for using catfish in soups, stews, appetizers and entrees, grilled, broiled, sauteed, baked and fried.

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