I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it, if I’d known ahead of time that the catfish would scream.
Minutes earlier I’d madly been Googling ways to most humanely kill said catfish, of which I had three large specimens.
So — spoiler alert — there is no humane way to kill one. Or, at least not a palatable one. I found a few recommended methods:
- Smashing their skulls with a club, or “priest.”
- Gouging out their brains with a thin wire.
- Just cutting the dang head off as quickly as you can.
I spent a couple of minutes deciding which of those three methods I would choose for myself. I hefted the heaviest hammer I own in my hand a bit and looked at the 2 pounds of wriggling slime. “Have to hit them hard,” I thought. “Everyone says the skulls are really thick.”
I put down the hammer.
I didn’t have a thin wire handy, but I had a sharp, thin fillet knife. Grabbed the fish around the gills. Plunged the knife in, between and behind the eyes.
And that’s when it screamed.
I’m sure it was some gasp of air or hydrogen-oxygen mix that the blade released from its gills or throat as it traveled down. But there was no escaping the horrible sound of me taking a life. This creature had been breathing — or at least trying to breathe — a moment before, and as I killed it, it spent its waning synapses voicing its displeasure.
And then coupled with that realization was another that was just as strong, which would allow me to press on and slice fillets off this fresh kill.
Which was, fish are delicious.
I’d been thrilled to discover Auburn’s fish market, open every Saturday, beside the fisheries unit. We’d been looking for a truly local seafood source for a long while. We’d been buying the pouches of frozen fish from the Piggly Wiggly because they had a Phenix City label on them, until one of us figured out they were packed in Phenix City, but had likely traveled from China. If you think that average of 1,500 miles that food travels to your table sounds bad, think about the 7,700 miles a load of fish has to travel to make it from Shanghai to Georgia. And think about how fresh they’ll be when they get here.
Whereas the Auburn fishery sells fish so fresh that it’s still flopping. Jenn and I felt like Chicago mobsters driving home from the place, hearing them thump around in the trunk, inside the ice chest. We’d loaded up with probably 20 pounds of bream and catfish, and a couple of smallmouth bass that sneaked in with the bream. This was my anniversary gift to her. (What a woman, huh?)
She was a little taken aback that they were still alive. And she ribbed me a little about the pouches of processed and frozen fish for sale in the freezers behind the counter. But silly me, I thought it was important to experience the whole deal, from killing to processing to cooking. She appreciated such, but did not stick around to watch. She didn’t even want me to post one of the more gruesome pics.
Now, I’m a Pensacola boy, so I’ve cleaned my share of small fish. But these catfish, hefty and barbed, were a whole ‘nother animal.
Next time, maybe I’ll just buy them from behind the counter.