Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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B.B. King the Blues Legend: Catfish and Fried Dill Pickles for Him

May 6th, 2010 · No Comments

The legendary B.B. King and Lucille/photo by Jan Norris

Blues legend B.B. King – the awards he has are too lengthy to list – is here in West Palm Beach one more night. He appears at the BB King’s Blues Club in CityPlace around 9 p.m. Tickets are streaming out the door – work fast if you want one.

84 and still performing worldwide

B.B. King at 84/photo by Jan Norris

I had the huge privilege of talking with King, 84, about food, his music and listening to his answers from other reporters. He’s a walking ad for AARP’s sexy seniors, and those little blue pills he teases about. He may sing the blues and now travel in a wheelchair because of a “bum leg,” but he surely loves living life.

He just returned from a tour in South America, where he was scheduled for Chile, Brazil and Argentina. “Didn’t make it to Chile because of the earthquake.” He’s going from two nights to Atlanta and back to Orlando. 

‘I love all food and all music’

Asked about his favorite foods – he loves them all, he said. His well publicized diabetes hasn’t slowed him down, and he whispered that he doesn’t always follow doctor’s orders, yet knows he should and sort of tries. To help control his weight, and diabetes, he’s been to the Pritikin Longevity Center in California numerous times.

King said is favorite food is “everything. I like it all – you can tell!” President of his clubs, BB King’s Clubs, Tommy Peters, told me the real answer is catfish. “He loves catfish – he grew up in the country.”  He talked on stage about the fried dill pickles on the Club’s menu – he’s a fan of those in particular.

Commenting on his habits, King said, “Some people say food is what you eat to stay alive. When an animal gets full, he just stops eating. We’re just an animal, too, but when our brain says we’re full, we’ve already eaten way too much.”

A generational thing

He noted that “every generation has its own music and its own food. “When I was young, we had something called boogey woogie – and rock n’ roll. Then we got older and listened to music from Cuba and South America. Today, they have hip-hop and rap – and yes, the blues, too. They may not know it, but they all are playing little blues.”

He laughs at the thought of dancing to today’s music. “I never learned to dance, but if I had, I couldn’t dance to today’s music. Unh-uh. I want to hold my girl like this!” He smothered a water bottle, wrapping his arms around it and holding on.

Loves his fans

It’s a love fest with his fans. He credits “the beautiful ladies, fans, and loving to play” with his longevity. To wit: He spent 30 minutes talking with reporters and shooed off his staff who were urging him to stop and get over to the club to play. After the hour-long concert, he was another hour signing autographs and talking with his many fans – none of whom wanted to leave.

“He’s one of the most genuine people you’ll meet,” said BB King’s Club president, Tommy Peters. His bus driver, Reggie Taylor, concurred. “He has a big heart of gold.”

With the promise I’ll cook him some of my best catfish next time he visits, we’ll meet again. Here’s the recipe I’ll use – it’s one I had to cobble together for you readers, because my kinfolk cook these with no recipe required. It’s part of our Southern DNA.

Country catfish and hushpuppies

  • For the hushpuppies:
  • 2 cups yellow or white corn meal
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
  • 1/2 cup finely grated or chopped onion
  • Oil for frying
  • For catfish:
  • 2 whole catfish, cleaned, split
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • Cleaned green onions, for serving

Note: Use the same skillet or pot and oil for frying both hushpuppies and catfish.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together all dry ingredients for hush puppies. Add eggs, milk and onion and combine. Don’t overmix. Heat oil to 355 degrees in a large cast-iron skillet or heavy fish-fry pot. Drop hush puppy batter  into oil with a large tablespoon, creating a few at a time. (Make them equal size for perfect results.)

Fry until golden brown, turning as need; remove with slotted spoon to paper-lined tray for draining. Repeat with remainder of batter. Strain oil, once cooled, then reheat in same pot to 355 degrees for catfish.

Wash and pat-dry the catfish (cut in half if very large). Beat egg in a shallow dish with the 1 cup milk. Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper in another shallow bowl.

Heat oil to 355.  Dip the catfish into the milk, then into the cornmeal mixture. Fry 1 or 2 pieces at a time – do not crowd the fish. Turn as need to fry both sides to a golden crisp.Remove, and lay atop the hushpuppies to keep the foods warm. Repeat with remainder of fish. (Do not cover; this will cause crust to become soggy.)

Serve at once, plating fish and hushpuppies together, with a green onion or two alongside.

Serve with cheese grits and cole slaw.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tags: Recipes: What's Cooking! · Southern Roots Run Deep · Today in the World of Food

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