When I learned that June 25 was Catfish Day in the U.S., I wondered how the bewhiskered bottom feeder got to be so honored, and then how many other fish species had such a designation.
The answer to the first item is obvious. Although catfish are one of the most popularly sought recreational species, commercial catfish-growing is the largest aquaculture business in the United States. Most of this occurs in southeastern states. The point of having a National Catfish Day (so proclaimed by President Reagan in 1987 after a joint Congressional resolution), is to promote the economic importance of the catfish-growing industry and encourage catfish consumption.
The answer to the second question, as far as I can tell, is that there are no national federally designated days for other individual fish species in the U.S., probably because there’s no commercial lobby for them. However, as designated in the U.S. over three decades ago by Congress, October is National Seafood month. Incidentally, in the U.K., June 2 is National Fish and Chips Day, which is an industry-created and supported recognition of that iconic British staple, although not established by government decree.
Out of Many, (Mostly) One
The tag National Catfish Day is a bit of a misnomer. While I earlier referred to “catfish” as if it were a singular species, the fact is that there are over two thousand fish in the catfish family worldwide, nearly all of them in freshwater.
In the United States the primary species include blue, channel, flathead, and white catfish, which can reach large sizes, as well as smaller relatives such as black, brown, and yellow bullheads. All of these are popular recreationally for fun and food. Channel catfish are the most important species for commercial growers and constitute 90 percent of U.S. farm production according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). So, maybe it should be “National Channel Catfish Day.”
It’s All About Delicious Food
Even if you’re not British you know something about fish and chips, which by definition is fried fish served with fried potatoes (French fries). And what do you suppose fried catfish is universally served with? Right, French fries….and probably hushpuppies and coleslaw.
The difference is that in the U.K., the fish used is predominantly cod and haddock, which are coldwater species, although plaice (a flatfish similar to flounder) and tilapia are sometimes deployed. Channel catfish are a warmwater species; grown in aquaculture ponds, they are highly sustainable (like tilapia).
Catfish are usually available in fish markets and at the fish counter of your local supermarket. The USDA has a wealth of information about commercially grown catfish, which includes handling, thawing, storing, and cooking details.
There are loads of places online to find grilled catfish recipes or fried catfish recipes to celebrate National Catfish Day. But you don’t have to get fancy. In restaurants, battered catfish are dipped into a vat of hot oil, but you can use a frying pan.
1. Melt butter into a shallow frying pan on medium-high heat until it starts to brown.
2. Dip a fillet into a bowl of scrambled raw egg, then dredge the fillet into a plate of seasoned breadcrumbs or your favorite fish batter/breading and put it in the frying pan.
3. Cook approximately 3 minutes on each side (more or less depending on thickness and heat level) and remove to a paper towel-lined plate before serving.
For extra richness you can dip the fillet into egg, then flour, then egg again, then batter. Or dip the egg-covered fillet into batter, then egg again, then batter again. Note that small, thin fillets of catfish have a tendency to curl, so you might put a small flat press over them in the pan. Enjoy!