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Evansville Courier & Press

Chef's Challenge for July 18, 2007
By Rebecca Coudret (Contact)
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Remember those old cartoons in which a cat eats a fish and in one move pulls out a perfectly intact skeleton?

That's close to what happens when a skilled fiddler connoisseur tackles the local fish favorite.

Photo by Vincent Pugliese
Knob Hill chef places asparagus next to Rainbow Citrus Baked Halibut during the Chef's Challenge at Knob Hill.

From fish fries to carryouts to restaurant dining, catfish fiddlers have a special appeal in this part of the country. So, we went in search of some great fiddlers for the July Chefs Challenge.

Jacob's Pub and Restaurant and The Knob Hill Tavern accepted the challenge, and the fiddlers more than met expectations.

You'll note in the accompanying recipes that Ed Teamer, chef at Knob Hill, declined to provide a recipe for fiddlers.

"What we put in the batter is top-secret," Teamer said, "and (owner) Danny (Kollker) doesn't want me to tell you that!"

Jacob's Pub owner Dan Nix was more amenable to sharing, offering not only a fried fiddlers recipe but also one for broiled fiddlers.

"We used to have broiled fiddlers on the menu, and they went over really well, but this is Evansville!" Nix said with a laugh.

"People here like fried fiddlers probably 8-to-1 so we dropped broiled fiddlers from the regular menu, but still have some people request them. They're more labor intensive than fried, but they're worth it."

Teamer said that despite what some people think, fiddlers aren't an acquired taste.

"If you like fish, you'll like fiddlers. They're mild, flaky, delicious. You don't need to be intimidated by the bones. The meat just pulls away cleanly. Put your fork behind the head (or, in most cases, where the head would be) and the meat just pulls off."

Nix agrees, saying it's just a matter of getting used to eating the farm-raised catfish both restaurants serve.

"Some people have a hard time eating fish with bones."

"But with fiddlers it's easy. You skim across the top and eat one side, turn it over and skim across the top to eat the other side. The meat pulls away from the bones, and with the crunchy exterior, it just has a great flavor."

Gloria Badger, a supervisor at Jacob's Pub, said fiddlers also "make such a pretty plate."

"Most people want the fiddlers cooked 'til the tails curl,' so it looks as good as it tastes."

At both Jacob's Pub and The Knob, the fiddlers were perfectly drained; neither had any grease on the plate, and it wasn't prevalent in the taste.

"The meat of the fiddler is so good, so you want to make sure it's fried perfectly and drained well," Nix said.

The ingredients for this month's Chefs Challenge were a little lopsided, with two starches in the "required" field. But that didn't faze Nix or Teamer.

"I actually didn't mind that," Nix said. "It was fun to come up with colorful food to fill the categories, and I think everything enhanced the fiddlers."

"I thought all the tastes went together well," Teamer said. He nodded toward sous chef Steve Crabtree's vegetable medley.

"That adds a totally different flavor from the Pasta Salad."

At the Knob Hill and Jacob's Pub, Fridays are given over fiddlers.

"We'll sell a good amount through the week and on Saturday, but Friday is Fiddlers Day," Teamer said.

"You can count on every other, or every third, person walking through the door on Friday to want fiddlers."

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