When people come to visit us here in Louisiana, they often ask where to go to eat authentic Louisiana seafood. We usually mention Middendorf’s Restaurant which is located about an hour away from here. The seafood restaurant is on the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, the north side, at Pass Manchac. The restaurant has been around since 1934 and is favorite of locals. Their best-known entree is crispy thin-cut fried catfish. I decided to see if I could replicate the dish retaining the flavor but “frying” the catfish in the oven to avoid all the effort involved in deep fat frying. Here’s the restaurant’s catfish. Mine looks a little different but tastes great.
Our trip to Louisiana’s “the beach.”
Although Louisiana borders along the Gulf of Mexico, the coast is largely inaccessible to most folks. The marshes and swamps, bayous and Achafalaya Basin mean that this part of the state is, in general, not very habitable. When we first moved to Louisiana, we decided to take a trip to the coast and “the beach.” After driving for what seemed like hours, we finally made it to the Louisiana coast only to discover that there were no beautiful sandy beaches along the shore. A strong wind whipped the waters up along a rocky barrier and a bit of dirty sand. Not conductive at all to sunbathing or swimming. Ned-less to say, we didn’t stay long. Other than Grand Isle, the Louisiana coastline does not have the sandy beaches of Alabama or Florida.
Since that time, I have made other trips to the Louisiana coastal areas and swamps; and have discovered another kind of beauty and adventure. I’ve gone deep sea fishing several times, out at the oil rigs, returning home with a large catch of fish (thanks to our chartered boat captain). We’ve gone hiking, taken canoe trips and chartered boat trips into the swamps. And the coastal area is a treasure for bird watchers especially at migratory times where beautiful and rare birds land on live oak trees for a respite after crossing the Gulf. We’ve taken several interesting adventures at this time in the spring of the year.
And since moving to Louisiana, I have learned to enjoy and eat many types of seafood. Although this type of catfish is a fish which is found in freshwater and brackish water — not the Gulf of Mexico — I also learned to eat this fish while living here. We visited Middendorf’s Restaurant several years ago in August for my birthday when these photos were taken and had a nice leisurely afternoon outing. With the Covid-19 virus the restaurant has been shut, but I believe that parts of it are once again open for business.
Our “beach trip” took us southwest to Louisiana’s coast. Middendorf’s Restaurant is in the other direction. It is east of Baton Rouge along Pass Manchac which is between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. Here the seafood is plentiful and accessible. Oysters, crab, shrimp, crawfish, flounder and catfish are all on the menu, when in season.
The restaurant is located along Interstate I-55 and the old Hwy US-51 south of Hammond and Ponchatoula, Louisiana. It was founded in 1934 by Louis Middendorf, a traveling salesman who lost his job in the 1929 stock market crash, his wife Josie and son Richard. Ownership of the restaurant stayed in the family for most of the time until 2007. With no heirs to continue the restaurant, it was sold to Horst and Karen Pfeifer whose New Orleans restaurant was lost and closed during Hurricane Katrina. The couple has continued and enhanced the original menu.
Thin Fried Catfish
Thin Fried Catfish was originated by Louis Middendorf in the early years of the restaurant. Catfish fillets are sheered with a boning knife into thin strips, coated with a cornmeal and flour breading and fried. The breading is crispy and light and doesn’t overpower the catfish. It is just scrumptious.
Although the restaurant sells their cornmeal breading, I’m guessing that the ingredients are not given out. So, I came up with my own recipe. And since I’m trying to avoid deep-fat frying as much as possible, I “oven-fried” the catfish. My method is simple and quick, and tastes just as delicious.About Catfish
Catfish are a freshwater fish, found in the rivers, lakes, swamps and also brackish waters of Louisiana (as well as other states across the country). The fish is also aqua farm-raised in ponds particularly in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Wild catfish feed off the bottom of the river or lake. They are scavengers and tend to taste like what they are eating; sometimes having a muddy taste. Aqua farm-raised catfish have a sweet and mild taste, their diet is grain-based and closely controlled.
As a bit of trivia, the record for the largest catfish caught in Louisiana is a weigh of 110 pounds and was caught in the Mississippi River just north of Baton Rouge!
Catfish is firmer and less flaky than other whitefish and is a good species for frying. Most of the catfish for sale in grocery stores is aqua farm-raised. Unfortunately, catfish has become quite pricey, My purchase cost $7.00 a pound. So now when we cook and prepare this fish, we treat it as a luxury item. These fillets are individually flash frozen; it is easy to defrost just the amount that you need. This 2 pound bag contained 8 fillets, each weighted about 4 ounces — they are rather small. No need to try to cut them with a boning knife to make them thinner.
I made my own breading for the catfish which is quite easy using ingredients commonly found in one’s pantry. Nothing unusual or special. Most fish fry breading contains cornmeal which gives a good flavor. Often it also contains flour which makes the breading a bit lighter. Buttermilk? What is it doing here? Catfish is typically soaked in buttermilk which helps eliminate any “muddy” and “fishy” taste. And rather than frying the catfish, I coated the fillets in olive oil spray prior to baking to make them crispy.
“Oven-fried” catfish can be enhanced by a flavorful seasoning. I used typical “Cajun” seasonings of onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt and white pepper. My breading is not “hot” although some fish fry breading is extremely highly spiced. Mine is just nicely seasoned.
To make the recipe, mix up all the ingredients for the breading. Defrost the catfish fillets, soak in buttermilk. Then drain, dip in the breading. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with olive oil or other butter-flavored oil. Place the fillets on the baking sheet and spray them with oil. The reddish tint comes from the paprika.
Part of the key to my recipe is to bake in a hot oven. Bake in a 400 degree oven on the lowest rack for 15 minutes. It doesn’t take long to “oven-fry” these small catfish fillets. (Typical fillets found in restaurants are commonly 5 to 7 oz in wt.; these averaged 4 oz.) Don’t overcook the fillets.
The catfish fillets are crispy and just delectable–mouthwatering. This is a good way to learn to like to eat fish. And the catfish does not have the “deep fat fried” flavor which is a nice change. You taste the catfish and not all the oil.
Life is changing with the Covid-19 virus. Perhaps traveling will be possible sometime in the future again. So when that happens, remember this iconic seafood restaurant in southeast Louisiana. In the meantime, enjoy my “oven-fried” catfish recipe at home.
Louisiana-Style Crispy Oven Fried Catfish
- 1 to 2 lb frozen catfish fillets, average 4 oz each (3 to 7 oz range), for 4 to 8 fillets
- Pam olive oil spray or similar margarine or butter-flavored spray
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
Method and Steps:
- Defrost the frozen catfish fillets in the refrigerator or under running water.
- When ready to cook the catfish, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with Pam olive oil spray or similar margarine or butter-flavored spray.
- Drain catfish. In medium size bowl combine the catfish fillets and buttermilk. Set aside.
- Combine the ingredients for the breading — cornmeal, all-purpose flour, salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and white pepper. Stir to combine. This recipe makes an ample amount to coat 2 pounds of catfish.
- Remove one fillet at at time from the buttermilk, letting excess buttermilk drain off. Dip the fillet in the breading mix. Place on oiled baking sheet. Repeat with remaining fillets.
- Spray the breaded fillets with Pam olive oil spray or margarine or butter-flavored spray.
- Place the baking sheet on the lowest oven rack. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove and transfer to serving platter.