Friday, February 23, 2024

Can We Eat Our Way Out of the Bay's Problems?

Bay Program, Could the blue catfish “cattie” be the Bay’s next best recipe?

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Well here in the Chesapeake Bay, we’re taking the blue catfish—a predator species that’s causing mayhem within the ecosystem—and making catties.

What, you might ask, is a cattie?

To answer this question, we first need to define its predecessor, the coddie.

Often referred to as “the poor man’s crab cake,” the coddie is a dish that was once a common staple across dinner tables and restaurant menus in Baltimore and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The recipe calls for a mix of mashed potato and salted cod, often served between two Saltines with a side of mustard. While the origin of the coddie is unknown, a prevailing theory is that it was invented by Fannie Jacobson Cohen as a non-kosher crabcake to sell at her family’s market in Bel Air, Maryland.

To put a modern twist on the old-timey bite, we recommend substituting blue catfish for cod in order to create a “cattie”, a dish that is as good for the Bay as it is for your belly.

Blue catfish is a non-native species that was brought over and dumped into the James River in the 1970’s for recreational fishing. Over time, the species has moved into the Chesapeake Bay where it is now notorious for eating blue crabs, striped bass and other smaller fish while procreating at high rates. The fewer blue catfish we have in the Bay the better, which means that eating the surprisingly tasty and nutritious fish is beneficial to the ecosystem.

It is this reason that inspired Chef John Shields to put the cattie on his menu at Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen. The chef does not claim to be the inventor of the cattie, though he does provide a wonderful tutorial for making the dish on his YouTube channel, Our Common Table. In the name of journalistic integrity, we tried the restaurant’s cattie and can confirm it is truly delicious. 

We have had Blue Catfish a few times, and they are delicious, better in our view than Striped Bass, and much cheaper when sold commercially. I haven't tried "catties", but we had crab cakes made with Striped Bass a few days ago, and they worked pretty well. Add enough Old Bay to anything and it tastes like "crab"!

On the other hand, I'm skeptical that we can make much of a dent in the Blue Catfish population in the Bay by encouraging local consumption. What we need is good national and maybe international market. Currently, the market price of Blue Catfish is so low it barely pays for the gasoline to take the fishing boats out.

The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Country Girls up on time at The Other McCain

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