“Cooking is my happy place. It reminds me of family gatherings back home and cooking in my grandma’s kitchen.”

Quita Barnett’s earliest memories include preparing catfish and polenta with her grandmother. Watch how Quita honors her grandmother through this family dish.

Quita grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and developed a passion for cooking from all the family moments in her grandmother’s kitchen. When Quita moved to Seattle, she stayed connected to her family by cooking the dishes that her grandmother made back at home. Now, Quita aims to help new employees during their transition to Microsoft. Active in the Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) Employee Resource Group, she helps organize the Welcome HOME (Hosting and Onboarding Microsoft Employees) program, dedicated to sharing resources and advice with new employees to help them get plugged in to the community.

Fried catfish and polenta
3-6 servings

For the polenta:
2 c water
2 c whole milk
1/2 c heavy cream
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
1 c polenta or grits
1 c shredded sharp or medium cheddar cheese
Pepper (to taste)

For the fried catfish:
Catfish fillet (depends on family size)
1 Tbsp pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder
4 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp creole seasoning, such as Old Bay Seasoning
4 Tbsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp yellow mustard
2 c cornmeal
2 c all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp corn starch
1 1/2 c canola oil

1. To make the polenta, in a large saucepan, combine the water, milk, heavy cream, and butter, and bring to a boil. Add the salt, and then slowly whisk in the polenta, adding small amounts at a time to prevent clumping. Whisk constantly for 3 to 4 minutes to prevent lumps.

2. Lower the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, partially covered and stirring every 10 minutes, until the polenta is thick, smooth, and creamy. Add the shredded cheese toward the end of this time. If needed, adjust the seasoning, and adjust the consistency by adding milk or cream.

3. To make the catfish, rinse the catfish fillet, and cut the fillet into portions for each person. Season the catfish with half of the seasonings—pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, paprika, creole seasoning, and cayenne pepper—and the mustard.

4. In a large bowl, mix the corn meal, flour, and corn starch with the second half of the seasonings—pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, paprika, creole seasoning, and cayenne pepper. This will be your coating for the catfish. Put the seasoned catfish into the flour mixture, and ensure that they are well coated. Set the coated catfish on a baking rack.

5. Add the oil to a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, and heat until the oil temperature is at least 375 degrees or wait about 3 to 5 minutes. I use a cast iron skillet, which is a traditional pan to use for southern cooking.

6. Place the catfish into the pan using tongs, making sure that the oil does not overspill. Cook for about 4 to 6 minutes on each side. Take them out, and put them on the baking rack to cool.

7. Plate your creamy polenta. I usually like to add parsley, and then I add the fried catfish on top of the polenta. You might want to serve a side dish of collard greens in a small bowl.

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