"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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More Than One Way to Skin A Catfish
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

As the old saw goes, "There is more than one way to skin a cat."
I don't think the perpetrator of that notion was talking about skinning catfish, but that is my topic for today.
Aside from the fact that more and more anglers are discovering that catfish can be turned into boneless filets just as their flatter brethren are made ready for the pan, there are two methods of "cleaning" catfish. They are either scalded or skinned.
Either method will do the job, but I prefer skinning because it does not pre-cook outer surfaces of the fish. 
In my opinion, the stage is set for a scrumptious fish din-din by the way catfish are "cleaned" (dressed, or undressed as the case may be).
Getting a catfish--any catfish--out of its slimy suit here in Indiana, as in many other Midwestern states, applies to flathead, blue and channel catfish, and their smaller brethren, the bullhead family--yellow, brown and black 

How to catch catfish is another story--several other stories. Right now we are concerned with "cleaning" catfish.
Here's how I do it: 
"Cleaning," as most Hoosiers know, is the process of transforming recently killed or caught game or fish into a state that will lend itself to being prepared (most often cooked) for the table. For example, in most cases the various species of game birds and animals are cooked. On the other hand, wild green onions may be used raw in salads or cooked in many ways. But even wild onions, like many other products of nature, must be cleaned before we cook, or otherwise use them. 
Frankly, I do not look down my nose at a well-browned catfish and ask whether it was skinned or scalded. But when I clean catfish, I skin them, even though scalding is much easier and infinitely faster. My rule of thumb for those who scald, is:  leave them in the boiling water for as short a time as possible--just long enough to make the outer skin scrape off easily. It is best, I think, to dip one fish at a time.
The skinning process is much the same for catfish of all sizes, the chief difference being that it is best to handhold fish of up to a pound or two. Larger fish probably should be nailed (through the head after they have been killed) to a solid object like a tree trunk. The skin of larger fish is much thicker and more difficult to remove. The job may require two hands.
To handhold and skin the smaller fish, I grasp the fish with my left hand, the top of the fish's head in the palm, and my thumb and index finger resting behind the pectoral spines on the two sides of the head. This leaves my right (dominant) hand free to alternately wield a sharp knife or a pair of blunt nosed pliers.
Holding the fish in this manner, I make a crosswise cut (just through the skin) from one side of the fish to the other. This cut can be made before grasping the fish to avoid the possibility of cutting the hand.
Then by grasping the loose skin with the pliers and pulling toward the tail of the fish, I work the skin off. This will require grasping the loose skin at several places from one side of the fish to the other. It also will leave a "V" of skin on the belly of the fish. This "V" of skin can be grasped with the thumb and knife blade (or with the pliers) and pulled forward.
When the body of the fish is free of skin, the head is cut off, the entrails removed, and the body cavity washed out with cold, running water. Tail and dorsal fins may be left intact or may be cut off with a sharp knife. If the dorsal is to be cut away, make the cut from back to front end of the body.
The dorsal fin can be more completely removed by cutting along both sides about half an inch deep and pulling it out with pliers. I prefer to leave the dorsal fin and use it as a guide to the two sides of the flesh after it has been fried.

MOREL MADNESS--Cooler weather--B-R-R-R, even spitting snow--last weekend sidetracked the fast-advancing spring, and put a temporary hold on the riot of wildflowers that was about to pop.
Some--not a lot but some--finds of small morels (probably blacks) were reported in the southern third of the state (primarily the strip-pit country of the southwest). But the morel picture was a bit out of focus recently.
However, a return to spring will solve that problem. If that doesn't happen, bundle up and go mushroom hunting--especially in the southern half of the state. Soon you will be greeted by wildflowers and that is the green light for morels.

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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