Getting food prepped for cooking is not fun, especially if you’re cooking fresh-from-the-farm-or-water veggies and meats.
I love fresh cream-style corn, but a lot of work goes into it. Even if you didn’t grow it, you have to shuck it, brush it to remove those silky strings then wash it and cut the kernels off the cob. Cooking it is the easy part.
Cleaning and dressing an animal is more work (and mess) than most folks want to think about and why they get their beef, pork, chicken and seafood from a grocery store.
Not only did I help my grandmother gather the eggs, I also helped wring a few chicken necks. It’s not something I enjoyed and don’t want to get used to it.
It’s a lot like hunting. The real fun in hunting is the hunt itself, not the killing of an animal. Ditto for fishing. But I’m not one of those guys you see on TV catching fish and then throwing them back. I don’t enjoy cleaning fish, but I love eating them.
For those who only eat fish sticks heated in a microwave, real fish come with scales and bones — except catfish. You have to skin those.
Our assistant managing editor and I got into a philosophical discussion not long ago about the proverb, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I wondered if the expression referred to skinning catfish or furry little kitty cats. I don’t particularly love cats, but I wouldn’t harm one. We determined the expression mostly refers to skinning catfish, but it appears there was a market for cat fur many years ago.
(I now look at that annoying stray tomcat hanging around my porch in a whole different way.)
The technique you use to skin a catfish depends on the size of the fish. Some folks skin a big mud cat or channel cat by first hammering a nail through its head into to a board. They then make a thin slice around the head just below the dorsal fin and begin skinning off the outer layer of skin with a catfish skinner (pliers).
Big catfish aren’t as tasty as smaller cats, so most of the ones I keep are about a foot long. As soon as I catch one, I clip off the dorsal and side fins to avoid being pricked. I then skin that rascal the same way you would a big one, only I hold it by the end of its head. There are more ways to skin one, but my way has worked for half a century.
Fish that are 15 inches or longer are prime filleting candidates, but some of us have to be reminded each year that a filleting knife is sharp. Don’t test it by touching the tip of it with your finger. Fishing season kicks off for me by first getting pricked by a rambunctious catfish that got me before I could remove its needle-sharp fins and then pricked again when I check to see if my filleting knife is sharp.
I should mention how I remove scales from a bass, bream or pickerel. I’ve used an old kitchen fork to rake off the scales, starting at the tail and working my way up to the gills. Commercial fish scalers make the job easier for larger fish, which have larger scales.
After removing the scales on both sides and its underbelly, run your hand up the side of the fish from tail to head. If you feel any scales, remove them. It’s not like they taste bad or anything, but your guests might not be amused. And if you dare leave a bone in a fish fillet, be prepared for criticism. Cooking that fish to a crispy golden brown is meaningless if someone finds a scale or bone in a creature known for its scales and bones.