Fried catfish croutons on a Caesar salad? Yes, please. That's the main reason I decided to make this recipe from the Lee Brothers' Simple Fresh Southern. Whether it tasted good or not, that was kind of beside the point. Luckily, all the elements are treated with respect, so the result is a surprisingly cohesive and interesting dish.
Is this Caesar salad perfectly authentic? Not really. It does contain buttermilk and mayonnaise, and no raw eggs at all. But thanks to lemon juice and that buttermilk, the dressing has some tang, which complements the crunchy nuggets of catfish. The fish is actually pan-fried in an iron skillet instead of deep-fried in a pot, which miraculously worked without covering my stove in hot oil.
- For the Catfish Croutons
- 2 cups peanut oil
- 1 pound catfish fillets (about 3 fillets), cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1/4 cup white or yellow fine stone-ground cornmeal
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the Caesar Salad
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 anchovy fillets, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large head romaine lettuce, sliced crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide strips
For the catfish croutons: Pour the oil into a large skillet and heat up to 375°F.
While the oil is warming up, combine the catfish chunks and the buttermilk in a medium-sized bowl. Toss well. In a large gallon-size plastic zip-lock bag, add the flour, cornmeal, salt, and black pepper. Shake the bag until everything is mixed well. Remove the catfish pieces from the buttermilk and add to the bag. Gently shake the bag, until the pieces are dredged.
Fry as many of the catfish pieces in the skillet as will fit comfortably in one layer. Cook until they turn golden brown, about two minutes per side. Drain cooked catfish pieces on paper towels. Repeat process with remaining catfish pieces.
For the Caesar salad: In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, anchovies, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Add the chopped romaine leaves and toss well.
Divide the salad between four plates. Add the catfish croutons on top. Serve immediately.