Cooking catfish with Chef Dean Neff

LELAND, NC (WWAY) — Local chef Dean Neff specializes in seafood creations.

He is sharing some of his signature dishes with WWAY.

He’s cooking up Pan Fried NC farm-raised catfish with succotash with loquats, sambal, and lemon English pea-lemon butter ahead of an event happening this weekend you don’t want to miss.

The Fish Smart Celebration, Stop, Check, Enjoy Campaign is on Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Northern Regional Park at 4700 Old Avenue in Castle Hayne.

At the event, you can celebrate and learn the results of a recent campaign on fish consumption from the Cape Fear River.

Join Chef Dean Neff, Cape Fear River Watch, the New Hanover County NAACP, and the New Hanover County Health Department in their campaign to raise awareness about choosing fish to eat from the Cape Fear River that are lower in mercury and other chemical contaminants.

Here’s more information.

Check out Chef Neff’s recipes below.

Pan Fried NC farm-raised catfish with succotash with loquats, sambal, and lemon English pea-lemon butter

Cooking the catfish…Preheat oven to 400°F

4 catfish fillets

2 cups cornmeal Seasoned lightly with kosher salt and black pepper

¼ cup corn or peanut oil

salt and pepper

Catfish as an ingredient has in fact come a long way in the past 10 years. Farming practices have become cleaner and have in turn yielded a cleaner taste. We then pat the fillets dry with a clean cloth, roll it into great cornmeal, and pan-fry it in a cast-iron skillet. The result is a comfort food that has great balance and reminds me of camping in the summertime in Georgia as a child.  It has made believers out of the most skeptical former catfish haters.

Pat the catfish fillets dry with a clean towel and press firmly into the seasoned cornmeal. Heat the cast iron skillet over medium flame and add the corn or peanut oil. The oil should shimmer when ready for the fillets from the heat changing the viscosity. Carefully add the catfish fillets one at a time. Gently brown on the first side and flip. Pour off excess oil out of the skillet and place in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes. Serve the catfish immediately out of the oven. (Make sure you have a dry towel on hand. That handle will be hot!).

Cooking the succotash…

Succotash is a versatile satisfying vegetable side that allows you to highlight the best ingredients of summer. You can easily substitute ingredients, but some standard ingredients associated with this classic vegetable dish are okra, corn, field peas or butterbeans, tomatoes, and sometimes bacon or ham. I love finishing my succotash just before serving with almost any type of fresh herbs (dill, mint, oregano, fennel tops, or parsley)(with the exception of cilantro) and a small pat of butter and a dash of hot sauce.


Serves 4 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup of sliced fresh okra

2 tablespoons bacon minced

1 cup fresh corn kernels

1 cup tender, blanched butterbeans

10 cherry tomatoes (cut in half)

½ cup sugar snaps

2 teaspoons cold butter

dash of hot sauce

12 fresh basil leaves torn

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon fresh chopped tarragon

2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives

In a hot skillet or sauté pan, add the olive oil and okra. Cook for 4-5 minutes until golden brown. Add the corn, butterbeans, cherry tomatoes, sugar snaps, and cook over medium-high heat for another 4-6 minutes. Add the butter, hot sauce, and herbs and remove from the heat. Season with salt and serve immediately out of the pan.

Green Pea Emulsion

½ cup white wine (good enough to drink)

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

1 bay leaf

1 small sprig thyme

1 small sprig oregano

1 cup low sodium vegetable or fish stock

1 tablespoon cream

½ cup blanched English pea puree (blanched and pureed smooth on a food processor)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ pound unsalted cold butter

Salt to finish

In a nonreactive 1-2 quart saucepot over low heat, add the white wine, shallot, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and reduce by half. Add the stock and reduce by half. Turn the heat very low and add the cream, the butter, and the lemon juice. Stir constantly while the butter melts to incorporate, while being vigilant in making sure the mixture never gets hot enough to boil. Once the butter has been fully melted and incorporated, season and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Whisk in English pea puree.  Hold warm until served.

Toss loquats with olive oil, lemon, and season lightly with salt.

Categories: Community, Live Cape Fear, New Hanover

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