by Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
Throughout my culinary career I have been known for many cooking styles. The seafood chef, Asian-fusion chef, Latin cuisine etc., but one of my favorite things to be known for is my gluten-free cooking. I do not research or try to be gluten-free with my cooking, it just happens to be my style. My uncle was one of the first people in Springfield to be diagnosed with celiac spru many years ago. It was not a well-known condition 1996 and up until then the doctor’s thought he had some rare form of stomach cancer.
Around that time, I just purchased my first computer and as soon as I had it hooked up and connected to the internet my aunt and uncle walked through the door and my uncle exclaimed, “Look up celiac spru!” So that was my first-ever internet search. These days results by the thousands arrive in an instant. Back then we got about two pages of results and it only took three minutes via dial-up connection! So fast I barely had time to go downstairs and grab a soda.
I learned how the cilia in human intestines lay flat for people with celiac, making it very difficult or impossible for them to digest gluten – causing severe nutrition loss and major discomfort. His doctor had given him a giant three-ring binder with a list of thousands of things he could or could not eat. I knew gluten was in bread, crackers and pasta, but barbeque sauce? Margarine? Salad dressings? Who knew? The main culprit is modified food starch which is in many things.
Over the years many people (seems like nearly everyone) have been diagnosed with celiac. I would get questions about the menu from guests as to what they could eat. I would mark items with an X if they could not eat it, or a star if I just needed to make a slight modification. It was surprising to me there were only a couple X’s or stars, it was not a conscious decision, it was just my style of cooking. My uncle loved fried catfish and could never order it out, but I always made it safe for him and he loved my tartar sauce too. They’re easy to do but may require a quick store run for some very common items.
Potato Fried Catfish
fresh or frozen catfish fillets, about 4-8 ounces per person – cod, pollock or other panfish work too
1 box/bag potato starch, or gluten-free flour blend
eggs, 1 per person
1 teaspoon oil, per egg
1 box potato flakes, or instant potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying
Set up a breading station. Have a bowl or dish with potato flour. Another with eggs and oil mixed together – the oil helps the breading stick to the fish. A pan with potato flakes and another pan to hold the breaded fish. I have a little “Fry Daddy” I like to use when doing this dish, and if I’m cooking a big batch, I use a turkey fryer outside. You can shallow fry in a half inch of oil on the stove – just be sure the oil never smokes or gets too hot. Thaw fish if frozen. Pat the fillets with a paper towel and season each side with salt and pepper. Dredge in the potato flour, then egg blend and then into the potato flakes. Deep fry for 3-4 minutes depending on size. Fish breaded like this will float when it is done cooking. If pan frying cook each side until well browned – about two minutes per side. Remove from heat and let drain on paper towels before serving.
Quick Tartar Sauce, for one person – increase as needed
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon salad dressing
1 tablespoon sweet or dill relish
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Yes, I am using salad dressing here. I am not a fan, but in this recipe it works well. Usually, I make a remoulade which is a very fancy tartar sauce, and I would make mayo from scratch – and not even think of using salad dressing, also adding capers, whole grain mustard and all kinds of ingredients. This is a fish fry and this sauce is simple and delicious. Mix all ingredients well and chill until ready to serve.
Note! Read ingredients before purchasing! Many manufacturers process wheat products, so check to make sure it does not say “this product may contain wheat.” Many companies are careful not to cross contaminate, but the big companies do too much volume to avoid this happening. Bob’s Red Mill is a great, local brand and Bob happens to be my uncle’s name. Thanks for all the smiles and laughter uncle Bob! You are loved much and will be missed by many. Happy 2021 everyone! Stay safe and stay well.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.