Although the problem presented by Chesapeake Bay catfish is complex, the solution is relatively simple: Eat them.

The environmental, ecological, logistical, economic and political dilemma has a culinary solution. If consumer demand for blue catfish, the invasive species unique to the Chesapeake, were the same as demand for blue crab and rockfish and oysters, a permanent avenue could be created to rectify the big oops of letting them loose in our waters decades ago.

So what’s the holdup? It is mostly one of culture, tradition and the changing fashions of dining.

Catfish have an image problem up north as being muddy-tasting bottom feeders, a perception that is challenging to undo. In fact, our northern species feed in the water column and not the bottom, and feast on the babies and offspring of the creatures — crab and rockfish — we love to eat when they grow up.

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If they are what they eat, catfish should be delicious. So how do they taste? The matter is subjective of course, but the short answer is pretty damn good.

Zack Mills, chef at True Chesapeake Oyster Co., prepares his blue catfish as a salad-plate-size, pounded and breaded schnitzel. It comes with squash and potatoes, garnished with bitter salad greens, dressed in a lemon caper sauce, which provides some acid to balance the flavor of the fish, which he described as being in the middle of mild and “fishy.”

The catfish at True Chesapeake barely resists the fork. It is pounded before it’s cooked, so you’d expect it to be extremely tender. Its flavor is distinctly different from rockfish. “Fishy” is in the nose of the beholder, but the catfish is, perhaps, a bit more redolent of the bay — in a good way.

The fillet held up well to deep frying and could easily convert to fish sticks, fish sandwiches and fish nuggets. Mills said catfish is conducive to all cooking techniques and is very versatile, so I bought some to prepare at home three different ways.

Raw blue catfish available at the fish counter at Whole Foods in Harbor East. (Hugo Kugiya/The Baltimore Banner)

Finding blue catfish in a supermarket requires scouting, but several chains carry it. Stephanie Pazzaglia, who works for seafood distributor J.J. McDonnell, said Wegmans, Giant Foods, Whole Foods and MOM’s Organic Market are among those who stock it.

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Less than a mile from The Banner’s newsroom, the Whole Foods in Harbor East sells blue catfish for $9.99 a pound, touting it as wild and a product of Maryland. It was less than half the price of the wild-caught halibut steak next to it.

I prepared it three ways: poached Japanese style in a broth of soy, mirin and dashi; seared Cajun style on cast iron with dry spices; and baked Mediterranean style with butter, wine, olives and capers. The poached catfish became part of an udon soup with scallions, shrimp and chili flakes, with the poaching broth used for the soup base.

The subtle flavor of catfish makes it a receptive canvas to just about any preparation, be it bright and spicy, earthy and umami, or tart and acid.

Its most remarkable quality, though, was that it seemed impossible to overcook. Leave cod, tuna or salmon on the heat for too long and they turn tough and chewy. Scallops and shrimp become rubbery. Seafood, in general, has a reputation for being easily overdone and is often intimidating for home cooks.

Catfish can take the heat and remain tender. I intentionally left some of the fish on the stove longer to see if it would turn chewy, and it did not.

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I bought blue catfish and cooked it three ways at home, including baked Mediterranean style with butter, wine, olives and capers. (Hugo Kugiya/The Baltimore Banner)

“Blue catfish is for sure harder to overcook,” Mills said, “and while I don’t have an exact, scientific answer, my educated guess is the combination of oil content and just general texture of the fish lends itself to being an easier fish to cook than others.”

As for the flavor, it is perhaps a somewhat acquired taste, having an aquatic bouquet that is different than some of the more popular eating fish. But it is not “fishy” the way mackerel or sardines are. Nor is it particularly oily.

It is mild, if not flaky. It does not have the al dente quality of well-prepared swordfish but does not turn to mush the way flounder or sole can. No, catfish does not reach the transcendent heights of flavor and mouth feel of, say, Alaskan halibut or Copper River salmon. But local blue catfish is at least as toothsome and tasty as the commonly farmed varieties of tilapia and carp.

As a practical question, the case for Marylanders and other bay denizens to eat blue catfish is that it’s inexpensive, has a positive effect on the environment and is a local product that we can and should eat with impunity as a matter of local pride. Soon enough, we’ll develop a craving for it.

Lobster and oysters used to be considered trash food, the former served to prisoners. Monkfish has seen a similar rise in esteem and popularity as a desirable dish. Chicken wings used to be afterthoughts and now are celebrated as the national dish of sports watching.

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Maybe Chilean sea bass, king salmon or bluefin tuna are finer-eating fish, but they are double or triple the cost of catfish, and all are at risk of being overfished. For that matter, beef and other livestock raised for meat also have deep environmental costs.

Save them for special occasions. Blue catfish can be eaten as everyday protein, with zero guilt.

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

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