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Sustainable Catch: Catfish

Carolina Classics catfish. (Whole Foods Market)

In recent weeks, I’ve read more than a few articles about
how sustainable food lovers are out of touch
. "Gourmonsters," cried the New York Post, reserving its harshest words for Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters.

Sure, Waters can be off-putting. (Does anyone cook an egg on a long spoon over an open flame, as she did in her recent appearance on "60 Minutes"?) But sustainable food isn't always precious and overpriced. For proof, head to the fish counter at Whole Foods Market, where sustainably farmed catfish is on sale this month for $7.99 a pound.

I know. When I say catfish, you may think, "Ick, tastes like mud." (If you think of anything at all.) But this catfish is different from most I've tasted. It's got a delicate, almost sweet flavor and a fairly meaty texture that doesn't require frying to make it taste good. (Though I dipped some in buttermilk, breaded it with cornmeal and pan-fried it, and it was terrific.)

As a breed, catfish has the potential to be sustainable. It can be raised in ponds, which don't require constant water recycling, and it can be fed a mostly vegetarian diet, which makes it more eco-friendly than other popular farm-raised fish that require many times their weight in fish meal just to grow. This catfish, from Ayden, N.C.-based Carolina Classics, goes a bit further in order to meet Whole Foods' strict seafood standards, released last year. The company controls aquaculture from beginning to end. It owns a feed mill and, at Whole Foods' request, uses no antibiotics and no land animal protein in the feed.

Carolina Classics also runs its own hatchery and processing plant. And it shuns chemicals such as copper sulfate, an algicide that many conventional farms use to reduce those catfishy off flavors.

All catfish is not sustainable, however. Be sure to ask your fishmonger how the fish is raised and what it is fed. Call me a gourmonster, but if he doesn't know, buy something else or take your business elsewhere.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  April 30, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black, seafood  
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I've never thought catfish was muddy; I buy mine in Asian markets when possible and do Asian things to it.

But sustainable catfish does seem to taste a bit better and certainly carries less guilt.

Posted by: jweissmn | May 6, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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