Wonderful taste of the American South on Ann Arbor’s Westside!
By Ari Weinzweig
Anyone who’s had a cat go missing for a few days knows the feeling of relief when the cat comes back! In a culinary sense, that’s a bit of what many Roadhouse regulars have experienced in the last few weeks. Due in part to “supply-chain issues”, fried catfish had been absent from the Roadhouse menu for months. We’re happy to announce, “the cat is back!” Local catfish lovers have been giddily enjoying them since it quietly returned to the menu.
The culture behind catfish.
Although I grew up in a fish-eating family, it was also one that kept kosher, which meant catfish were never on our family table. By contrast, many folks in the South were raised on them. Writer, producer, origin-forager Stephen Satterfield, who is also a friend and occasional consultant to the ZCoB, says, “My father and my maternal grandmother are and were, respectively, really excellent regional cooks, so my whole repertoire of Southern dishes, southeastern dishes, I guess, is really strong … I grew up eating excellent versions of things like fried catfish.” Catfish have a long-standing place in both West Africa and Southern culinary culture here in the U.S. Michael Twitty (check out his exceptional book, The Cooking Gene) says, “Catfish are a true ‘soul food.’ Massive catfish are found in the rivers of West Africa and the Southeastern United States, and their presence must have been a familiar site to many West African fishermen.” My friend Adrian Miller (whose book Black Smoke is highly recommended) once shared with me the old saying that “Fish should swim twice: once in water, and the second time in cooking oil.” Catfish has been a significant form of farming in Mississippi, especially in the Delta, since the late 1960s. Although Mississippi is still the catfish capital of the country, the tradition of frying fish went north during the Great Migrations. Back in the ’30s there were sidewalk signs all over Harlem promoting “Hot Fried Cat.”
How we make our catfish.
The Fried Catfish has definitely got a whole lot of loyal fans around this area—I saw many sad faces over the last year when we told folks it wasn’t on the menu. Happily, sadness has now turned into smiles. We start with a whole catfish we bring up from Yazoo City, Mississippi. We roll the catfish in Anson Mills organic cornmeal—a blend of five varietals dating from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries—and then deep fry it ’til it’s golden brown. We sprinkle on a pinch of garlic salt—the secret ingredient I learned about from my Alabama-born-and-raised friend Peggy Markel’s dad, who was known as Uncle Joe Burroughs, in whose memory the fish is named on the menu. The catfish comes with long-cooked collard greens, and some of those organic Anson Mills grits (made from a different corn varietal, this one dating to the 19th century). While the whole catfish is on the dinner menu, the lunch menu has a Fried Catfish BLT. Either way you eat it, if you’re a fish lover like me, you’ll be a happy human.