Chef Rains Cooks Catfish Four Ways

Historic Arkansas Museum - Friday, April 19, 2019

Smoked, brined, fried & stewed, Little Rock chef Scott Rains, of Table 28, cooked catfish four ways for Historic Arkansas Museum’s History is Served dinner on April The meal celebrated the 2019 Arkansas Food of the Year, and it is the first of this year’s dinner series focusing on ingredients central to Arkansas’s food culture. We were able to catch Chef Rains in the kitchen before he served his catfish feast to 65 guests.

 What was interesting for you tonight?

The cornmeal was interesting. It’s popcorn cornmeal. You can smell the aroma, it really smells like popcorn. It’s one of the finest cornmeals, one of my favorite cornmeals I’ve had from here to Georgia. I get it whenever it’s available through the Arkansas Farmer’s Co-op. It’s actually farmed and milled in Oklahoma, about three hours away.

Let’s talk about catfish.

I love the flavor of catfish. This dinner, it got me overwhelmed. I was over-ecstatic because I’ve been fishing since I was three, catching catfish on the Arkansas River and the Ouachita River.

As a kid, when I got to go to the Arkansas River, I had a good friend of my Papaw’s—my Papaw didn’t like catfish—but his neighbor did. And he would take me with him, and then we would just load them up.

Cooking catfish, it’s very versatile. As you can see, the first course we did was a smoked catfish. I actually hot smoked it—I don’t think catfish is as good cold-smoked. We turned it into a wonderful dip, on top of chicken skins. Some people do toast or crackers but we did chicken skins.

Where’d you get the catfish?

The catfish is from Ozolina, Mississippi. Sweetwater catfish. They’re doing a great job with their catfish, you know. We’re having a lot of trouble with our catfish.

How did you cook in the old ways tonight?

Like I said, catfish is very versatile, but for the main course I stuck with fried because of the history of Arkansas and this event. Years ago, that’s what they did on the riverbanks, they fried the fish. So I said, you know what? It’s going to be challenging--we’re not going to deep fry--but we’re going to make it happen. I just fried over 170 fish in frying pans. So it was fun.

Did you learn anything new?

Of course I did! I went back and looked at what they did. They made braunschweiger sandwiches on rye with mayo, and I did my version of it.

Did you say braunschweiger?

Braunschweiger is pork liver, pork jowl meat, and pork belly meat. All cooked together until tender, with garlic, shallots, parsley, and nutmeg, and then it’s pureed and processed together as a minced meat. Then slightly smoked for a slightly smoked flavor. Then it’s rolled into a tube and sliced and eaten on bread. And that’s my version of it, I put it into an appetizer.

They also always had strawberry cake. I put a chocolate honey mousse on there, and what I did to keep it outdoorsy was to top it with a homemade smoked marshmallow. It’s not your usual strawberry jello cake.

Your History is Served is a program of HAM’s Arkansas Foodways Initiative, sponsored by the Historic Arkansas Museum Foundation Board. Upcoming dinners for the 2019 series include “If Reasons Were as Plenty as Blackberries: Arkansas Fruits and Berries” with Jon Arrington of The Root Cafe on June 6th and “The Genealogy of Food Traditions: The Summer Vegetable Plate” with Scott McGehee of Yellow Rocket Concepts on July 11th. Tickets for the next dinner will go on sale on Monday, May 13th. Purchases can be made through the museum’s website.