Farmed catfish swims into fashion

So you've read up on current issues relating to seafood, and now you're ready to shop for and cook varieties considered "sustainable"?

This recipe for Spicy Catfish Tacos will get you started. It is the creation of Karen Adler and Judith M. Fertig, culinary instructors, cookbook authors, and longtime pals, who live in Kansas City, Mo. They are both fans of catfish farms, particularly those in Belzoni, Miss., which they call "the center of the farmed catfish universe."

Long a specialty of the Deep South, the firm-fleshed yet tender and mild-flavored catfish has become popular all over America. More than 1,000 catfish species exist, but "channel" catfish are the type most often farm-raised in the US. They are fed soybean and wheat pellets, reducing the demand for ocean fish, which are often used in fish feed. They are also raised in closed freshwater ponds, where water quality can be closely monitored.

This surprisingly tasty dish drew raves at a recent gathering of culinary professionals in Adler and Fertig's hometown. It was adapted from their latest cookbook, "Fish & Shellfish Grilled & Smoked" (Harvard Common Press, $15.95).

If catfish doesn't appeal to you, you might try cooking another fish that's included on the substitution chart on page 18 or on lists published by conservation organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Audubon Society. (See website information on page 19.) And keep reading up on the topic. Guidelines as to what's sustainable and what's not can change almost as often as the tide.

Soft Tacos With Spicy Catfish

2 cups cored and shredded Napa cabbage
1 cup assorted baby greens (mesclun) or oak-leaf, bibb, or butter lettuce
1/4 cup tarragon vinegar
1/4 cup sour cream
Juice of 2 lemons
8 green onions (scallions), white part and some of the green, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons Fireworks Rub (recipe at right) or another spicy barbecue-style seasoning
1-1/2 pounds catfish (US farm-raised, preferably)
8 large flour tortillas, warmed just before serving
Lemon wedges, for garnish
1-1/2 cups salsa of your choice for garnish

Fireworks Rub
1/4 cup each chili powder, ground cumin, and ground coriander
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

Makes about 1 cup.

Grease the grill grates well, then prepare a hot fire. (Alternatively, the catfish could be pan sautéed.)

Make a cabbage slaw by first combining the cabbage and greens in a large bowl. Then, in a small bowl, combine the vinegar, sour cream, lemon juice, green onions, and salt to make a dressing. Set aside.

In another small bowl, combine the Fireworks Rub. Set aside.

Coat the catfish fillets with Fireworks Rub.

When grill is hot, grill the fish directly over the flames for about 4 to 5 minutes per side or 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Turn only once, halfway through grilling. (If pan sautéing fillets, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, add fillets, and cook them for about 4 minutes per side.)

Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to blend just before assembling.

To assemble the tacos, place a small serving of grilled fish on each warmed tortilla. Top each tortilla with about 1/3 cup ofthe cabbage slaw and a spoonful of salsa. Then fold the filled tortilla in half or roll it up burrito style. Serve with lemon wedges.

Makes 8 tacos.

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