If you're wondering whether you can eat catfish, you probably were not raised in the South. Catfish, usually fried, is a common dish in restaurants and homes in the Southern states, particularly in rural areas. Catfish is becoming more widely popular as a delicious source of protein that is low-fat and low-calorie, especially when fixed in ways other than frying.
Before eating fresh-caught catfish, check with your local extension office regarding the waters where the fish was caught. Many toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, dioxins and mercury, leach into waterways and build up in fish. Nearly all fish contain some mercury, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, catfish is one of the five most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury. Most people can tolerate small amounts of mercury, but children, pregnant women or nursing mothers should restrict consumption of low-mercury fish to no more than two meals per week.
Most catfish eaten today are raised on catfish farms. According to the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, farmed catfish is a clean and safe protein source. In contrast to the sometimes muddy taste of fresh-caught catfish, the flavor of farmed catfish is consistently mild. Recipes calling for other fish, meat or poultry can be easily adapted to use catfish.
Calories and Nutrients
A 3-oz. serving of catfish fixed in a way other than frying comes with approximately 120 calories, 15 g of protein and 6 g of fat. At 100 mg, a serving of catfish is low in sodium. It contains 210 mg of phosphorus, which is nearly a third of the daily recommended amount. Catfish also contains small amounts of calcium, zinc, copper, manganese and magnesium.
Catfish is an excellent source of vitamin B12. One serving contains 2.36 mcg, which comprises nearly all of the adult daily recommendation of 2.4 mcg. Catfish also provides you with choline, a nutrient needed for healthy cell membranes and neurotransmitters. The recommended daily amount for adults is 425 to 550 mg; a serving of catfish contains approximately 67 mg. A serving of catfish contains 2 g of the recommended daily niacin intake for adults of 14 to 16 mg.
Buying and Preparing
When buying catfish, look for firm flesh with no strong odor, blood or discolorations. Frozen is as good as fresh in terms of flavor, nutrition and appearance. Do not allow the catfish to thaw until you are ready to cook it. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or cook from frozen, allowing extra time.
The classic way to fix catfish is by breading with cornmeal and seasonings, then pan- or deep-frying. Use a healthy oil with a high smoke point, such as refined canola. Bake, grill, broil, steam or saute your catfish for less calories and fat. Allow 110 minutes per inch of thickness, slightly more if cooking from frozen. When fish flakes easily, it is done.