Catfish have long suffered from a reputation of being known as the “poor man’s fish.” Catfish are often thought of as lower on the totem pole because of myths surrounding the way they obtain their food, their nutritional content and toxicity. In reality, U.S. farm-raised catfish are one of the healthiest, most versatile and most sustainable fish available on grocery store shelves and in restaurants.
Catfish were once considered distasteful because wild-caught catfish are typically bottom-feeders in lakes, rivers and ponds. However, unlike their wild-caught relatives, U.S. farm-raised catfish are raised to hunt for their food at the top of their controlled ponds.
Providing the fish with an abundant, healthy food source at the top of the ponds prevents them from searching for other food sources, so they look for food at the water’s surface rather than at the bottom. This gives U.S. farm-raised catfish a consistently fresh and mild flavor.
Another misconception about catfish’s reputation relates to its nutritional value and how it is cooked. Some consider it unhealthy and “cheap” because it’s often deep fried. While fried catfish is a staple (especially in the South!), there are many healthier ways to prepare catfish. It is delicious when baked, grilled or pan-seared, and Heartland Catfish Company offers free healthy recipes for at-home chefs to try.
U.S. farm-raised catfish are also a nutrient-dense fish. If you need a healthy source of omega-3s or healthy fats, catfish is a great option. It’s also packed with vitamins, minerals and protein. According to LiveStrong, U.S. farm-raised catfish is a great source of B12, niacin and phosphorus.
A common concern with catfish is that they are more likely to have high levels of toxins or heavy metals. However, this isn’t the case with U.S. farm-raised catfish for two reasons. The first is because toxins are stored in the fat, and farm-raised catfish aren’t a fatty fish. The second is because farm-raised catfish are eaten at a younger age when the meat is more tender, so they are less likely to contain heavy metals like mercury. Older fish have had more time for heavy metal to build up.
Catfish has been a popular fried dish in many restaurants across the South for decades, but is now becoming a staple for other styles of dishes. Many higher-end restaurants in the region are serving it not only fried, but also pan-seared, grilled and baked. Jason Goodenough, owner and operator of New Orleans restaurant Carrollton Market, loves using catfish because of its versatility and mild flavor profile.
“Catfish is a really versatile ingredient because it has a flavor profile that’s adaptable to a lot of different cuisines. The profile is light and clean, and mellow,” Chef Goodenough says. “You can do super, super high-end food with Mississippi Delta farm-raised catfish, especially from Heartland Catfish Company.”
The most important thing to remember when shopping for catfish is to buy U.S. farm-raised catfish rather than imported. Imported catfish are not only poorer in quality and taste, but also are more likely to contain toxins and heavy metals.
Although many myths surround it, U.S. farm-raised catfish is sustainable, plentiful, high quality and delicious. Catfish is no longer the “poor man’s fish,” but a nutrient-dense superfood that can be cooked and eaten in a variety of ways.