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Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce

In Louisiana, the general rule seems to be that if you can catch it, you can fry it and eat it.  Catfish is a regular item in homes and on menus from Louisiana all the way up the Mississippi River valley.  It has a mild flavor that lends itself well to seasonings, fries up nicely, and is inexpensive.  It works as a main entree, in a sandwich or as an appetizer, like the catfish fingers pictured above.  The Tomato Tartar sauce and Tabasco combine with the herbs and spices to give these fingers a tasty kick.

Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce
makes about 18 fingers

For the Tomato Tartar sauce
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup white wine
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
1 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, white and light green parts chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped gherkins
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or to taste
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Catfish Fingers
1 pound catfish fillets (about 3 fillets), cut into 3/4- by 3-inch strips
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon grainy Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons bottled horseradish
2 Tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

For the Tomato Tartar Sauce
In a small saucepan, bring the tomato sauce, wine, and garlic to a boil, stirring, over high.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and reduce the mixture by half without stirring.  Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooled reduction, mayonnaise, green onions, and gherkins.  Process until smooth or desired consistency.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the parsley, hot sauce, and salt.  Season to taste.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Sauce can be made a day in advance.

For the Catfish Fingers
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the wine, mustards, horseradish, salt, and pepper.  Add the fish strips, close the bag, and toss to coat.  Refrigerate for an hour.

In a large heavy bottom pan, heat the oil to 350° F. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, cornstarch, and seasonings.  Dredge the fish strips into the mixture, shaking off any excess.  Fry a few strips at a time until golden, about 4 minutes.  Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining fish, maintaining oil temperature.  Serve with Tomato Tartar Sauce.  Enjoy!

Source: Adapted from Lee Bailey's New Orleans, by Lee Bailey

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