This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The catfish in the United States occupies the same ambiguous position as the conger-eel in England; both are good food and both are subjects of prejudice. The catfish furnishes too much good meat to the markets of all that country that is drained by the Mississippi for its value to be called in question now, and yet a good many people will not eat it. There are several varieties, seeming to be different only in the color of the skin, and some people liking the white, oily, flaky catfish steak compromise with their prejudices by choosing only the yellow cat to eat But the distinction amounts to very little at the great fish stalls, where cat as large as sturgeon and dear as halibut are cut into steaks by the several hundred pounds daily and sold as readily as any fish from the sea. At the steamboat landings on the Mississippi it is no uncommon thing for a catfish of too pounds weight to be hooked, the fishers using flat-boats to fish from and armed with boat-hooks and axes to cope with such powerful game when hooked; the plan is to get the monster to the side of the boat in one of his quiet intervals and sever the tail with an axe, after which the fish is powerless. The common weights are, however, about 40 or 50 pounds.
In smaller streams the fish Seem to run smaller, and whole " strings of cats " of small weight may be caught before one that weighs as much as 20 pounds. Nothing elaborate in ways of cooking catfish is known; it is cut into steaks and either broiled or fried. The colored people make soup and chowder of the head. The fish is skinned with a knife, in strips; but small ones are skinned more quickly by scalding and scraping. " Catfish or wolf-fish, which is seen occasionally in the shops, tastes not unlike veal." It was once proposed to import some varieties of American fish to stock English waters, the catfish among them, and somebody wrote to their Times: " In mercy to men and fishes I protest against importing this forbidding, ferocious, uneatable, but all-devouring siluroid." In reply Mr. Fifth-Commissioner Blackford explains that "the fish are not handsome, but they are great favorites in Philadelphia. A native of that place is never so happy as when he is at a pic-nicon the Wissahirkon eating catfish and waffles.
Not many catfish stray into our market, and when they do they are boxed up and shipped to Philadelphia, where they are appreciated." The catfish is in season from September to April.