The skinny on thinfish

October 30, 2017

Thinfish. Nothing skinny about the taste.

Logic and a familiarity with fried catfish will tell you that filets need to not be too thin in order to avoid overcooking them when you deep fry them.

Reality will tell you to chunk that supposition over your shoulder when you’re heading in the door at Middendorf’s Restaurant in Manchac, La., where “thinfish,” catfish filets sliced about 1/4 inch thick, are breaded in an impossibly light, almost tempura except that it isn’t, breading and fried in what must be a screamingly hot fryer to a level of light golden crispy perfection on the outside, and moist, creamy fish inside.

Think catfish chips.

On second thought, don’t think. Just eat. Before they get cold.

Lots of fish fried here since the mid-1930s.

Manchac, a tiny group of houses and boat docks on the northern shore of Lake Ponchartrain, just off Interstate 55, would be a blink in the rear-view were it not for Middendorf’s, which has been packing them in for lunch and dinner since the mid-1930s. They serve regular catfish filets as well, along with the full menu of shellfish that any self-respecting south Louisiana eatery will offer, but it’s the thinfish they’re known for, and it’s the thinfish that brings the crowds off the interstate.

We stopped shortly after noon on a Saturday, and were promised a table would be available shortly; were given a pager that’d summon us. We spent maybe five minutes perusing the T-shirts, alligators and frozen goodies in the shop before it buzzed.

Had I not been set on trying thinfish, I’d have been most tempted by the Oktoberfest menu, albeit that was really a dinner, and not lunch, menu. But I wanted thinfish, and thinfish I would have. I asked for a small order.

I’d have hated to see a large order. Mine had three filets which, had they been flattened out (they curl up a bit when fried) would been the size of a trade paperback book, or my two hands outstretched and laid side by side. They came with hushpuppies, fries and slaw, as well as cocktail and tartar sauce; my request for lemon wedges quickly brought me a dish of half a dozen of them.

Let’s get the less-than-stellar out of the way first. The slaw was OK. It’s creamy, mayo-based with a good bit of vinegar, fairly sweet. Adequate. Comes, for some reason, with a dill pickle chip perched on top of it. The hushpuppies were OK. Decent flavor, fairly coarse texture. Some jalapeno, but minced fine enough so’s not to be objectionable. The fries were pretty good, and came from a real potato.

The fish. The fish was just damn well heavenly.

Those filets were lighter than air — I’m surprised, on reflection, they didn’t float off the plate. Light golden tan. Ethereally light breading that was almost like, but not quite, tempura. Inside, a thin, thin layer of moist, creamy fish. Damned if I know how they do it. I’m just glad they do.

I got through two and a half of those three filets before having to give up the ghost. Lord have mercy, but that was some of the best catfish I’ve ever had in my life.

Next time you’re going to or coming from the Big Easy, time it so you’ve got some time, and some space left in your tummy, for a stop at Manchac. You can’t miss Middendorf’s. And you shouldn’t. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em need thinfish in your life.

 

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Seafood safari

October 29, 2017

Perennial Gulf Coast fave — shrimp and crab au gratin from Mary Mahoney’s.

Just got back in town from a jaunt to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans, which included a significant number of calories contained in some excellent meals.

As beach trips go, it was not the greatest. I’m not crazy about the Mississippi Sound beaches (no waves!), though an excursion on a shrimp boat was entertaining. But I gambled for several hours over two days on thirty bucks before I lost it all, and ate several memorable meals as some old and new favorite restaurants, so on the whole I call it a success.

We started things out at lunch on the road in Jackson, Miss., with a stop off at Lou’s Full Serve, tucked in behind a grocery store near downtown. It may be hidden, but it’s no secret — place was packed when we got there between 11:30 and 12. Extensive sandwich menu, extensive salad menu, and a daily blue plate special. Wednesday’s was meat loaf.

Well, now, y’all know me and meat loaf. People, this was MEAT LOAF. They brought me a full half-pound portion of it, coated in a marvelous tomatoey-ketchupy glaze, with nary a nasty bell pepper lurking anywhere about it, and it was GOOD, I am here to tell you. Sweet Baby Jesus good. It came with lima beans and mashed potatoes which benefitted greatly by the addition of a tad of bacon. I got through all the veggies and three-quarters of the meat loaf, and looked at the little waitress with absolute disbelief when she inquired about dessert.

Lucky I was riding and not driving. I may well have napped en route from Jackson to the Coast. Short story: Lou’s deserves its No. 1 place on the Yelp ranking for lunch spots in Jackson, and I’ll go back.

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Nothing to do with this post, but a food pic I hadn’t posted. Caviar-topped smoked trout deviled eggs.

It’s been too long since I had a kitchen day. Like seriously, big-time too long. And it’s a little bit cool, and while there is work I OUGHT to be doing, it does not have a deadline looming with it, so I can take a day to myself in the kitchen tomorrow.

Because? I doggoned well deserve it.

In all fairness, even though I’ve been working like a madwoman of late, I DID take most of three days off and go to Columbia, MO, to see Emmy Lou Harris and John Prine at a music festival. I do not regret a single second of any of the 10-plus hours I spent in a car to and from. It was an absolutely fantabulous show, and those two are just freakin’ phenomenal.

Yes, I sang along. Yes, I cried when Prine did “Sam Stone.” And cheered myself hoarse.

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Sharp things, shiny things

September 8, 2017

Sharp thing: A new, fancy paring knife.

I didn’t NEED either one of them. But I’ll use them regularly, and they make me smile.

Reason enough to buy new knives, and new wineglasses.

I got to jonesing, for some reason, for a good quality paring knife. I have three or four el cheapo paring knives, but when I need to peel or slice something, I generally reach for my faithful 5-inch Misono utility knife. I love that knife and use it every day.

Decided I wanted something just a bit smaller. I was breezing about Amazon, and found a hammered steel, not carbon, Kaizef, four-inch. I knew I didn’t want carbon, knew I wanted hammered. It was on sale. So I bought it.

It’s a nice, nice knife, that came in a nice sheath and box. Haven’t used it yet. Will try to touch up the edge just a bit before I do.

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Post-game fireworks at the ballpark. Can’t beat ’em.

It started with this.

Solar Eclipse, at 99.something percent totality. Very cool.

It ended with this.

Bringing civilization west of the Mississippi, two sixpacks at a time.

And for good measure, I brought this home with me.

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Muffins and biscuits. More muffins in the oven at that point.

With apologies to Jane and Michael Stern, of “Road Food” fame, and damn, do I miss hearing them every Saturday morning on WKNO in Memphis now that I’m an Arkansas public radio listener, and hey, KUAR/KASU peeps, can y’all do something about putting Splendid Table on the air here so a sista can hear it?

I am headed out on a road trip tomorrow, going to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR, where I used to live, and spending a few days in that part of the world with a girlfriend and her niece and adopted niece. (I understand all about those “adopted” kinfolk, having several.) I need a break, albeit I have had a fair amount of road time lately, but this comes at a good time, as I have hit a semi-slack period at work, though it promises to pick up by the latter part of August.

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Hello?

May 14, 2017

Market haul. Lots of good stuff this early in the season!

Yes, I am still alive. I’ve just been…busy.

Between Friday, May 5, and this past Friday, May 12, I was home for exactly 12 hours, during which I neither cooked nor ate. Between those dates, I went to a conference, at which I contracted a stomach bug; I went shopping at an outlet mall, saw a bear (not at the outlet mall), and lost only $45 at a casino. Then I came home (after approximately 1,000 miles), slept, unpacked, repacked, and went to Little Rock for the announcement of an 800-job, $410-million project on which I’ve been working for a year and a half. Then I came back on Friday, after spending two days at the factory site with the architect.

Then I slept. A lot.

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