Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Skin a Cat

I once had a retired neighbor in the Midwest who liked to fish in his newfound spare time. He had found a good hole in some kind of state park bayou, would while away there for hours, and periodically come home with more than he and his wife could eat. One afternoon, I happened to be tooling around outside when he called me over, asked if I would take the extra fish off his hands, and then proceeded to pass me a plastic grocery bag. Who was I to say no?

At home, I opened the bag and peered in. Gaping and staring back at me were three live catfish. I did what any good southern girl does when she is out of her native habitat and needs advice. I called Daddy and took orders.

“Well,” he said, “you’ll need a good place to clean them. And you need a fence post or something.”

“They’re still breathing!” I exclaimed. I eat dead things without fail—all kinds of dead things, including but not limited to cows, chickens, rabbits, goat, lamb, and even turtle—but I don’t kill things. That’s a man’s job.

“Oh, well then, go get a hammer,” he said.

So I manned up, laid newspaper and one sorry fish on the counter, and clubbed it. One of its eyes shot out across the room. I was a little stunned, but refrained from the “Ew, gross!” dance I could have done. I offered up a silent prayer for forgiveness and ended the suffering of his friends next.

“Find the biggest nail you have and pound it pretty deep into a sturdy post in the yard. You’ll need a good knife to cut around the head and pliers to pull the skin off.” I cut off the fish’s sharp spines, lodged the head of the fish securely on the nail, and followed the rest of the directions. I returned to the kitchen proud and dancing about with three naked and ready-to-gut fish.

That night I was suddenly sorry to live so far away in this largely landlocked environment of woods and corn fields, but I least I could partake in the glory of home food, a plate of cornmeal-fried fish with a side of greens and fried green tomatoes. I never did find that eyeball, though.


  1. Funny little side note you reminded me of... while skinnin out my slaughter the other day. A friend had stopped by to see The Queen, she stepped out to see what i was doing. As i applied the next 3" wood screw into the head of the next victim, she said, "Is...that...fish...still alive?"

    "Yeah, but not for long."

    She was horrified...but then, she's a city girl.

  2. I remember the same conversation with my own dad just before starting on all those squirrels in Chapel Hill. There's a lot to be said for the knowledge of fathers.


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