Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Science
Arkansans can celebrate National Catfish Month by serving U.S. farm-raised catfish for dinner, says Larry W. Dorman, Extension aquaculture specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. While fried catfish reigns supreme in popularity in the south, the fish is versatile and can be prepared in a number of different ways.
“Catfish is a species native to Arkansas that has been utilized by inhabitants of this area for thousands of years,” he said. “They yield a nice filleted product that is moist and flakey, which responds very well to added seasoning. Catfish have a mild flavor that does not overwhelm the palate, and it can be used as a substitute for almost any recipe that calls for fish.”
According to the Catfish Institute, U.S. farm-raised catfish is an excellent source of protein, which is low in saturated (bad) fat, and is a moderate source of polyunsaturated (good) fat and omega-3 fatty acids. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that moderate fish consumption – one to two meals a week – might cut the risk of sudden cardiac death in half.
Before purchasing a catfish product in the store, consumers should check the product label to ensure they are buying U.S. farm-raised fish, Dorman said. These fish are grown in clean, regulated conditions considered environmentally friendly by advocacy groups. On the other hand, it can be difficult to be sure of the origins or growing conditions of fish imported from Southeast Asia or China.
“U.S. farm-raised catfish are grown in earthen ponds filled with clean well water from underground aquifers that are free of contaminants, as opposed to water from streams, bayous or sloughs,” he said. “Any chemical product used in the production of the fish must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration or Environmental Protection Agency.”
Dorman said American catfish producers – located primarily in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama – practice efficient husbandry standards. They strive to maintain a high quality environment in the pond with adequate aeration, which lessens stress on the fish.
The growing cycle of catfish usually lasts two to three years. During the first year, the fish hatches and grows to a size referred to as a “fingerling.” In the second year, the fingerlings are stocked into ponds to be reared to food-size fish.
“The fish are fed daily during the growing season,” Dorman said. “Their diets include high-quality grains, which contribute to the mild flavor of the fish.”
Once the majority of fish in a pond have grown to sufficient market size, they are harvested by seine. They are then shipped via aerated tanks loaded on semi-trucks to a processing facility, where they are immediately processed.
Quick or immediate processing ensures a fresh, quality product, unlike fish that may be dead and on ice for several days, Dorman said. U.S. processing plants are clean and periodically inspected by regulatory agencies, which helps guarantee fish free of contaminants and antibiotic residues.
“By including U.S. farm-raised catfish as part of a balanced diet, Arkansans can enjoy the health benefits of one of our state’s native fish species, while also supporting an industry important to our economy,” Dorman said.
For a simple and healthy meal, Easter H. Tucker, interim family and consumer sciences program leader for UAPB, recommends the following Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service recipe for broiled catfish filets.
Broiled catfish filets (yield 2 servings)
2 catfish fillets (3/4 pound)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
- Spray broiler pan and both sides of fish with non-stick cooking spray. Place on broiler pan skin-side up.
- Broil about 7-8 inches from broiler unit or flames for about 5-7 minutes per side or until the fish is opaque when flaked.
- Season top side of fish with salt and lemon pepper. Serve immediately.
Serving size: 1 filet
Nutrition facts per serving
Fat: 10 grams
Sodium: 198 mg
Protein: 38 grams
Source: Jenilee Lemmon