The South's aggressive catfish industry has helped turn a formerly scorned fish into one of the hottest seafood items of the '80s. Part of the reason the catfish industry has been so successful is the care they take in growing and processing their product.
California raises some catfish but the heart of the industry is in the South, where nearly 200 million pounds of catfish were processed in 1985. The channel cat, which is the most popular type of catfish for aquaculture, is fed a scientific diet of soybean and corn, which produces a mild, sweet flavor and firm texture.
Catfish is often sold live in Asian markets, a sure way to guarantee freshness; for a fee you can get it cleaned or filleted. In supermarkets and fish stores it is usually sold in fillet form or dressed and skinned. If the fish is not skinned, have the fishmonger show you how it's done since it requires a bit of strength and technique. Dressed and skinned fish can be cooked in any manner, from deep-frying to barbecuing, and they retain moisture and sweetness better than fillets. But for some recipes and occasions it is more appropriate to serve boneless fillets.