Catfish finalist: Judges enjoy unique twist on catfish and grits

Published 3:17 pm Friday, July 27, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Bama’s Best Catfish Contest judges visited Maplesville on July 27 to see how Heard’s BBQ and Soul Food’s catfish measured up.

Heard’s BBQ is a finalist in the contest sponsored by the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Catfish Producers.

Owners Roman and Shakira Heard presented plates of fried catfish and smoked catfish cakes with a side of smoked gouda cheese grits.

This year’s judges are Catfish Farmers of America President Townsend Kyser of Hale County, Catfish Journal editor Mike McCall of Jackson, Mississippi and news anchor Wendell Edwards of Birmingham.

Ever since Heard’s BBQ was announced as a finalist in the Bama’s Best Catfish contest, catfish has been a top seller for the restaurant.

Roman Heard said for the catfish cake, a catfish filet is smoked, then ground and mixed with green peppers, Cajun seasoning and other ingredients.

Smoked Gouda is a favorite cheese for Roman Heard.

“We are kind of finding a reason to put gouda in everything,” Heard said.

For judging the fried catfish, Kyser said he wanted fish that was cooked just right with a firm breading. Presentation was also important to him.

Edwards said he was looking for good presentation and taste.

“I’m going to base it on, ‘Am I going to drive to eat this catfish?'” Edwards said.

McCall said he likes seeing the unique restaurants that have been nominated.

“We are basically looking for taste, but we are also looking for other things: presentation, the uniqueness of the place, the things they serve with the catfish … how the individual owner communicates about what they do with catfish,” McCall said.

Kyser said his favorite part of the contest is “getting to eat catfish, and seeing the fish that we grow put smiles on people’s faces.”

“It’s so much fun,” Kyser said.

This is his second year judging the contest, but he has been raising catfish for several years.

“I have been raising catfish since I graduated from Auburn,” Kyser said. “I am a third-generation fish farmer. My family has been doing it since the late ’60s.”

Edwards said it was his first year serving as a judge.

After his boss asked him to participate, Edwards was excited for the opportunity.

“I grew up eating catfish,” Edwards said. “I’m originally from Texas, and in my family, we had a fish fry every Friday … I’ve always liked catfish.”

Raising catfish is an important industry to the Blackbelt region of Alabama, from Pickens County to Montgomery County.

“Even though the industry is struggling this year, and we have shrunk in numbers after the last 10 years, it is still one of the biggest industries in the Blackbelt,” Kyser said. “It provides 2,000 jobs.”

The overall winner of the contest will be announced on Aug. 1 to kick-off National Catfish Month.