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If Memory Serves: Catfish And Hush Puppies

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If Memory Serves chronicles moments from my dining past, perhaps explaining why I'm so damn twisted.

I can say this without flinching: my dad made the best fried catfish and--especially--the best hush puppies ever.

Every Sunday without fail he'd stand over the stove dredging and splattering. It wasn't always catfish. Sometimes he prepared bluegill or some other panfish--it depended on what we caught that week. But he knew the whys and wherefores of catfish.

Really, I don't know what the secret was, since he never used a recipe. The fish just came out right: heavy and light, crunchy and fluffy, delicate and very, very muddy--every damn time.

Maybe it's because he grew up as part of a poor farm family in the "bootheel" or Missouri, that desolate space wedged between the Mississippi and the St. Francis (or St. Francois, depending upon which county you're in). They knew of such things as hog slaughtering time, collard greens and poke salat--as well as original folk songs, which I heard all my life.

Considering that we used to fish the Mississippi for these weekend meals, I'm surprised pollution didn't knock me off decades ago. Or maybe it helps with the immune system. It certainly helps with the flavor--because of wild caught catfish and it's dark, murky flavor, I've never been a fan of farm raised.

Yes, it's better to die younger than suffer through clean, flavorless catfish.

My dad's real forte, however, was hush puppies--an art form almost lost. Sometimes he weighed them down with diced onion, other times with bits of pork cracklins and often he left them plain. However, they were brilliant: fatty and crisp on the outside, fully cooked yet cushy within. I've still never found a local restaurant that can replicate this with any consistency.

To this day, fried catfish and hush puppies is my favorite homemade meal. No vegetables, just a plate of crust--perfect.

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