Catfish seems inextricably linked with Southern cuisine, and in Oklahoma, a restaurant that can make good catfish is often rewarded with a loyal following.
Take Mr. Catfish (aka Beef & Buns) at 2941 NE 23rd St., which keeps a peculiar schedule. Open Thursday through Sunday, it’s home to some classic fried catfish. Served with bread and tartar sauce, the real treat is to dress those hot-from-the-fryer filets with hot sauce and crunch through a layer of cornmeal to steaming catfish.
And if your dining companions don’t want fish, well, Mr. Catfish also makes tender ribs and an amazing banana pudding.
For a less traditional take, Jiro Sushi, 1101 NW 23rd St., has taken eel off the menu and replaced it with catfish.
Owner Jack Surya was looking for a way to differentiate Jiro from the crowd while getting away from eel, about which he has health concerns.
“Everybody else has eel, but too much is not good for you,” he said. “I tried tilapia and red snapper, but when we prepared catfish kabayaki-style, it really worked.”
Kabayaki catfish is grilled and covered in a sweet sauce and then paired with crabstick, cream cheese, spicy mayo and green onion in Jiro’s version of the Oklahoma roll.
Catfish is an international phenomenon, so it’s little wonder that Golden Phoenix, 2728 N. Classen Blvd., has its own use for the whiskered delicacy. The sweet and sour catfish soup is a feast for the senses, especially if you add in a little hot sauce, as well.
Another spot for spicy catfish (and lots of other tongue-tingling dishes) is Cajun King, 5816 NW 63rd St., where trays of catfish amandine are brought around to every table.
Why not keep it on the buffet with everything else? Because it’s better fresh and it wouldn’t last long anyway. These slightly sweet strips are fried to pale golden perfection, with a little crunch and a whole lot of flavor. The gumbo is good, and the jambalaya is inviting, but the catfish is what keeps customers coming back.
At Carican Flavors, 2701 N. Martin Luther King Ave., owner Sharon McMillan puts on a Caribbean feast every day, bringing the flavors of her native Trinidad to chicken wings and oxtail. And while others fry up catfish in big batches, her big, marinated fillets are made to order — and amazing.
“We’re a little different because we use fresh herbs and we marinate the fillets,” she said. “It brings out the flavor of the fish.”
Then it’s either grilled with tomatoes and peppers or lightly tossed with corn meal and fried.
“There aren’t layers and layers of batter,” she said. “I want you to appreciate the flavor. This way, you get more fish than batter.”
Today might be the day the nation recognizes catfish, but with options like these, every day is Catfish Day in Oklahoma City.