Tales from the Cabin
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Cajun Catfish & Grits

Delicious Southern staples made easy
By John Bäck
Published: March 24, 2011
During my college days in Florida, I consumed many different types of foods. To be fair, it was mostly junk food – pizza and ramen noodles – but there were a few culinary highlights.
   
One of the more interesting culinary adventures happened during my second year. While taking a literature class I began hanging out with Joseph. Joe was a transplanted Miccosukee Indian from the Everglades. I called him “Chobee Joe” because he was so tall and formidable (in the Miccosukee language, “chobee” means big).
   
Both of us loved fishing. We would frequently hit the St. Johns River to pursue our favorite fish – bass. During these outings, we’d occasionally catch what some would consider a “trash fish” – the dreaded mudfish. (In other parts of the U.S., they are called eelpout, lawyer, dogfish or grindle).
   
After seeing what was on my line, I would groan. But while I was busy wiping the mudfish slime off my hands, Joe would almost always exclaim, ”Hey, you should taste what my Granny can do with that mudfish!”
   
That year, on a spring break trip to south Florida with Joe, I got my chance to taste what Granny could do with that fish. It was awesome! Although I was young and paying too much attention to the spring break festivities, I managed to concentrate when Granny showed me her favorite recipe for Fried Mudfish & Grits.
   
As Granny explained, it was the marinade of whole milk that did the most to enhance the taste of the fish. She also added a splash of coconut milk, fresh minced garlic, parsley and lemon to her marinade to make it more refreshing. She told me it was important not to leave the fillets in the marinade longer than 45 minutes. Otherwise the fish would begin to “cook” (At the time, I didn’t know that citrus juice could tenderize fish and impart a cooked texture).
   
Another mind-blowing taste experience was Granny’s grits. Growing up in north Florida, I was certainly familiar with grits. My mother made sure we always had grits on the table at every major breakfast event. But Joe’s Granny didn’t just put butter or cheese in her grits. His Granny’s grits had green onions, bacon bits and a creamy texture that was similar to risotto. I’d never had savory grits of that quality before. I probably ate my weight in grits that day!
   
Below are links to an updated reproduction of Granny’s recipe for Mudfish & Grits. I no longer have the time (or the will) to go catch a stringer full of mudfish, so I use catfish fillets instead. And if grits aren’t your cup of tea, you can always substitute a wild rice pilaf, but you’ll be missing out on something truly scrumptious!
   
Hopefully Granny will be proud!

John Back is a transplanted “Saltwater Cowboy” who likes to make snowmen at his Minnesota cabin.

click here to see Fried Catfish recipe or Granny's Cajun Grits recipe
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