Summer feels like the absolute perfect time to eat catfish. I don’t know why, because you usually prepare catfish deep fried and thus it comes to your plate hot, but there’s just something about the distinct flavor of catfish, breaded and fried, coupled with some hot sauce and a corn on the cob, that makes me feel like summer’s arrived. In reality, catfish are eaten all throughout the year, and all throughout the world: different species of catfish can be found in waters near every continent but Antarctica, and have been caught and farmed for food for hundreds of years. It’s become such a staple in Southern American cuisine that in 1987, President Reagan proclaimed today, June 25, as National Catfish Day to commemorate how important the fish is to both American culture and economy. So, unlike many other national food holidays, where no one really knows how, when, or why those holidays came about, we know the exact history of this holiday, and that it really is a national food holiday!
Catfish has a distinct, strong taste and smell, and it can turn some people off to the fish. It’s why you rarely see an unadulterated filet of catfish on a restaurant menu–it’s no red snapper, I’ll tell you that! But the nutritious benefits of catfish–high in protein, low in cholesterol, high in Vitamin D–definitely begs for a second look at the underappreciated fish. And it’s why so many cultures spice things up a bit with catfish: Indonesians grill it with chili sambal; Malaysians eat it with curry and eggs; Hungarians cook it in–what else–Hungarian paprika sauce. And Americans, particularly Southern American cuisine, like to crust it in cornmeal and deep fry it–catfish fritters! While we’re nowhere near the South here, you better believe that New York has some fierce fried catfish. And what better place to get a good catfish fry than at the Catfish Cafe? The cafe may be all the way out in Jamaica but no one is complaining, because they know how to cook catfish right. They cook everything fresh and to order here, and serve it with a ton of other good Southern comfort food: collard greens, candied yams, and macaroni and cheese. Definitely the way to have a catfish meal in New York, or anywhere in the country!
147-07 Guy Brewer Blvd, Jamaica
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“5 star all the way! I felt a little apprehensive coming to this place because it only had 2 reviews on yelp, but I’ve been craving soul food for a few days now so figured i’de give it a shot. Wow! I was pleasantly surprised. The place is small but very clean. I ordered the chicken and waffles and my friend got the fried catfish with a side of mac and cheese and candied yams. The catfish was devine. The breading was rich and crunchy and the fish was very moist and tender.”–Coleen J.
“Best southern food I have ever had in New York City. Had the fried catfish, collard greens, and mac & cheese. Fried catfish was extremely moist and flavorful, in a cornmeal batter that was perfectly seasoned. Collard greens were excellent, with something added that gave them a strong sweetness. Mac & cheese was a little too wet, but who cares? The cornbread was also fantastic.”–Bret H.
Want to try something a little more exotic than fried fish and mac and cheese? Can’t get out all the way to Jamaica just for a meal (as delicious as it may be)? Manhattan still has some excellent catfish dishes to enjoy, especially those from international cuisines. The famed Cambodian sandwich shop Num Pang, which also makes a mean Five-Spiced Pork Belly Sandwich, takes the Cambodian version of a bahn-mi to completely new heights. They serve a peppercorn catfish sandwich that mixes the heat of the peppercorns with the flavor of the catfish and the cool, refreshing taste of shredded carrots and cucumber. Num Pang’s catfish is always super-fresh and mild, and they champion the taste of this fish by grilling it to accentuate its flavor, not frying it to mask it. Their homemade chili mayonnaise gives an extra kick to complement the peppercorns–this is a sandwich that packs a punch! While a lot of places may serve catfish, it’s usually tucked away in the recesses of the seafood section of a menu, in favor of more popular and tastier fishes. But Num Pang puts their catfish sandwich right out there, proud of its flavors and happy to show New Yorkers everywhere that an inexpensive fish doesn’t mean you have to be cheap on the dish!
21 E 12th St (between 5th Ave & University Pl)
“Firm, perfectly grilled peppercorn catfish ($7.25) comes with a house-made sweet soy sauce that completes the sandwich. Are Ratha Chau’s sandwiches pricier than most of the banh mi joints around town? Absolutely, but for the most part they’re made with first-rate ingredients and great care, and I for one am willing to pay for that. Ten bucks for a sandwich and either a piece of grilled corn or a blood-orange lemonade still seems like a square and fair deal to me.”–Serious Eats
“The catfish was nicely grilled with some charring on the fillet. While the peppercorns weren’t readily apparent, the taste was unmistakeably peppery. The catfish wasn’t too fishy, which catfish can be sometimes. This was a nice, flaky catfish fillet. The fixings on all sandwiches at Num Pang are shredded carrot, cilantro, cucumber and chili mayo. They went very well with the peppery catfish, providing a bit of cooling from the peppery catfish. The chili mayo can sometimes be pretty hot, but it didn’t add to the heat level in this case.”–New York Street Food
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Yes, yes, yes, yes, and YESSSSSSS. This place is AWESOME. I actually came here with a friend for the first time months ago. I was on a meat fast at the time so I got the peppercorn catfish sandwich, and I fell in LOVE. I thought maybe it was a one-time thing, but I kept going back and each time it was AMAZING. I’m not meat fasting anymore, but I still have the same peppercorn catfish because it’s THAT good.”–R Y. J.
“I’ve heard lots of great things about the food at this place, so I decided to try it for myself. Everything they told me turned out to be true. I had the peppercorn catfish sandwich. The bread was really good, the catfish was cooked perfectly, and the flavors and textures of the cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots, and chili mayo worked beautifully together.”–Stevie S.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!