What causes that beckoning aroma after a rain? What causes the alluring fragrance of fresh-plowed soil? What causes the enticing earthy spice in beets?
Geosmin! (Say: GEE oze min.)
Geosmin is a bicyclic alcohol, responsible for transforming common things such as rain, into perfume.
You wouldn’t think it would also create the muddy taste that sometimes occurs in catfish, but it does.
Don’t worry! It won’t harm you any more than tipping up your face and catching Spring raindrops on your tongue.
But mostly, we don’t exactly prefer it in our catfish, do we?
They say to avoid it in fish we should hook them during cool weather, remove any dark-colored flesh, soak the rest in milk or vinegar, and several other tactics.
Scientists predict the vinegar actually could work, because geosmin breaks down when exposed to acid. But wouldn’t the fish taste pickled? And doesn’t milk include acid? I vote for milk!
However, once that part is over you know you must dredge catfish in cornmeal or coat it in a heavy batter; deep fry it in peanut oil; also fry breaded onion rings, French fries, and hush puppies (which are blobs of cornmeal mush stuff left over from breading or battering things). Then you can sit down and eat all that greasy food, most of which is heavily loaded with carbohydrates, a bad mix for many diets, these days.
I wanted something different. (I’m from the north, y’all!)
Since in our family, we all like to eat fish and don’t even mind enjoying a bit of catfish on occasion, I decided to invent a recipe for frying catfish that would be more health-giving for us. I love inventing recipes! I decided to pan fry on a lower heat and to use a health-friendlier oil, plus a breading that is low in carbohydrates.
The first task was to pick the breading ingredients. After considering coconut flour, almond flour, soy flour, flax meal, and whole wheat, I decided to go with whole almond flour. I reasoned that if we did not like something that mild, we certainly would not appreciate all the rest, and definitely not a mixture.
After that, I had to decide upon an oil. The first time I made this dish, I used olive; the second time I tried coconut oil. I suppose I’ll make this many times, to decide finally, but right now I’m leaning toward olive oil.
Then, to replace the carb-high potatoes and corn, I wanted to try marrow squash, also known as “spaghetti squash”. We’d enjoyed it merely buttered, and a few times supporting various Italian sauces. This would be an enormous departure from the traditional Southern experience, but a food adventure I was ready to try.
Finally, to round it off, I chose good ol’ low-glycemic, vitamin-loaded sweet potatoes. Boiled and buttered, they are one of our favorite go-to sides.
I had to buy the squash. Although it is easy enough to grow in Arkansas, and keeps quite well in a cool dark place, the deer have attacked our gardens with great gusto the last couple of years. I’m happy for their dietary enrichment, but I’m about to join our neighbor down the highway, who has fenced his garden with ten-foot chain link topped with razor wire.
I kid you not. The critters are thick around here.
But back to the kitchen!
Steaming a marrow squash is easy enough to do if you own a steamer. Just quarter, remove the seeds and excess membrane, and place it in the steamer over boiling water to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until fork-tender.
The difficult part is opening it before cooking, and that can be a mildly dangerous task if you don’t know how. I use a large knife that is recently sharpened, and watching out for my fingers, I aim for the center, chopping the squash once with the sharp edge of the knife. It usually cuts about ½” deep into the fruit. At that point, I can lift the knife, which is jammed hard into the squash, and the squash lifts with it. Taking care to keep fingers in safe places, I raise the knife, heavy with the squash, about four inches and then bang the squash, with the knife in it, down hard on the cutting board. I may have to repeat, but this works well. Once you have it in halves, clean out the seeds and loose fibers. Then quartering it is surprisingly easy.
I like to multi-task when I’m cooking, so I usually start the squash steaming before I work on the other parts of the recipe. That way the squash can have time to cool for handling, and then be warmed again before serving.
Another word of caution, this time about releasing the “spaghetti” from the cooked squash shell: It must be cooled, first. There are very few ways to handle a piece of food that is boiling hot. Potholders, I found, will soak through and can scald you. I’ve used tongs before, but that’s awkward. It really is best to let the squash cool on a plate, flesh-side up, about ten minutes, shred it out of the shell, and then reheat the “spaghetti”.
If you have more of the squash than you need, for this meal, it is delicious when reheated, with or without a chopped green onion and some pepper, in a buttered pan with a lid. Add a bit of cream and shredded cheddar cheese at the last minute, and it makes another lovely, and very quick, side for low-carb enjoyment.
The recipe shown here includes four catfish filets. It was a lot for two people to eat, really, but I was hoping for left-overs.
And I think you will, too.
Katharine Trauger is a retired educator and a women’s counselor. She has spent 25 years managing a home and school for children who would otherwise have been homeless, and has worked 15 years as contributor and/or columnist for several small professional magazines, with over 60 published articles. She blogs about the rising popularity of “being at home” from a sun room on a wooded hilltop in the Deep South at: Home’s Cool! and The Conquering Mom and tweets at Katharine Trauger (@KathaTrau). She is currently working on a self-help book entitled: Yes, It Hurts, But . . .