The Case for Catfish
This spring, chefs from across the Deep South will have a chance to visit the Simmons Catfish farm in Yazoo City, Mississippi as part of an Eat Y’all Chefs Retreat. Simmons Catfish is home to the premium Simmons Delacata, a cut that Chef David Dickensauge has found to be a versatile crowd favorite at his Mississippi Gulf coast restaurants, Corks & Cleaver and 27th Avenue Burger Bar. We wanted to know why the fish was so popular with him – and his customers, so we went for a visit to find out.
Chef David’s 27th Avenue Burger Bar is tucked beneath his upscale wine bistro just a couple of blocks away from the Mississippi Sound. The day we visited was spring-like – in January – a breezy 70 degree day lavished in fountains of sunshine that made me swoon as I set up shop at a corner table near the bar. I ordered a late lunch in advance of my chat with the chef. The front and side doors were propped open to let the salty outdoor air float inside. As my pile of BBQ nachos hit the table, I instantly wished for more assignments like this one.
I was on a mission to find out why a Gulf Coast chef was so in love with an inland farmed fish – specifically, with Simmons Delacata, and listed it by name alongside legitimately Gulf-sourced oysters, shrimp and fish of the day on his restaurant menus.
About the Chef
Born in San Rio, California, Chef David was in the kitchen from a young age. His grandparents owned three Mexican restaurants.
Much of his growing up years were spent on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and in 1994, he landed a job at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans where he worked with the renowned Chef Jamie Shannon, an inspiration to Chef David.
Dickensauge graduated from the New Orleans Culinary Institute in 1999. Afterwards, he did stints in the Birmingham, Alabama kitchens of Chef Chris Hastings at Hot and Hot Fish Club and Chef Frank Stitt at Highlands Bar and Grill and Bottega Café. Then he further advanced his culinary acumen at esteemed restaurants in New York, Miami and Chicago before returning to the Deep South – and eventually to Baton Rouge.
In 2015, he stretched his wings back to his Mississippi coast hometown to open Corks & Cleaver Wine Bistro in downtown Gulfport. In 2016, he added 27th Avenue Burger Bar to the mix.
About Simmons Delacata
Simmons Catfish farm simply describes Delacata as a skinless, boneless cut selected from the finest fish which was hand-filleted and deep-skinned. They say their 5-ounce portions are the “perfect prime cut of fish.” Cooked, it has thick white flakes, a firm texture similar to Grouper and a consistent mild flavor. The fish is trained to feed from the top, and the Simmons farm feeds their fish a proprietary blend of premium grains that we have coined the “Harry Simmons cereal.”
Chef David explains his perspective on the ingredient like this:
“It’s a certain cut – like the filet mignon – of catfish. It’s the center cut – a big giant piece of catfish. It’s not in strips – like the catfish houses that serve ‘all you can eat’ catfish. You get the heart of the meat – where all the tenderness of the meat is. You can massage it and do whatever you want.”
Chef David says he first worked with Simmons Delacata at the Eat Y’all Writer + Chef Tour in 2016. He was able to work with the fish during the cooking portion of the itinerary.
He said, “I fell in love with it. This was a product that was easy to make taste good.”
He explained that he instantly realized how this fish could fit onto his Gulf Coast restaurant menus. “A lot of restaurants around here don’t want to serve catfish, but they’ll do frozen tilapia or even try to pass off swai… Those products are front and center in every low-end grocery store. I don’t think they’re good for you. Why would you serve that to your restaurant guests?”
Why He Loves It
We asked, Chef David, in his own words, to explain why he likes Simmons Delacata. He said:
“It’s my job as a chef to seek products that aren’t the norm and to fix them in the best way… to turn things grown locally… into a masterpiece… something spontaneous or great or artistic. When the product is already great, it’s very easy for it to taste good when you get it on the plate.
“It really doesn’t take much when the product is locally farmed and taken care of so well. It’s a great product – just raw. You can look at it before you do anything with it, and you can tell it’s a premium product.”
“The good thing about Simmons Delacata is… people think, ‘you’ve got catfish – you’ve gotta fry it,’ but this catfish – you don’t have to fry. You can bake it, you can roast it, you can fillet it, stuff it, wrap it. It’s an amazing piece of fish in itself. When you have something that’s that versatile you don’t have to dump it in a bunch of cornmeal to make it taste good.”
“Delacata is always consistent: the structure, the flavor. It’s a step above other competitive options – you can just tell it’s taken care of in the proper way.”
Chef David says he loves the versatility of Simmons Delacata, and his customers clearly agree. The dish is one of the top sellers on this restaurant menu, and he uses it on all of his menus: lunch menu, dinner and even the kids menu!
He says “right now” his favorite way to cook the fish is how he’ll present it on his new spring menu at Corks & Cleaver. He says with a bright smile:
“Fried Delacata with a seafood jambalaya and smoked tomato remoulade.”
He says he also loves to use Delacata to make catfish “strips” for his kids menu – something that’s been very popular and helps young gourmands have a serious menu option beyond the grilled cheese.
“You can literally put a little bit seasoning, a little bit of lemon juice and a little olive oil. Get a cast iron skillet nice and hot. Sear it [the fish] and put it on some succotash, some okra and maybe a tomato brodo [a fancy word for tomato broth] and some microgreens and send it out and you’ve got this five star dish that with all local ingredients. How great is that? Where else are you gonna be able to do that?”
Simmons Delacata may be ordered online from the farm and shipped directly to your restaurant or home (in appropriate portions for each), and it’s also available for restaurants through gourmet and specialty distribution services. Want to learn more? We’ll be happy to connect you if you drop us a line through our contact page or social media.