11 great seafood recipes to make while you're giving up meat for Lent

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

The rowdy excess of Fat Tuesday ushers in Lent, the 40-day period in the Christian calendar marked by fasting and almsgiving. While many give up social media or alcohol, others swear off meat.

If you're going that route, Southern Kitchen has you covered with these 11 great seafood dishes, which include a traditional fish fry, catfish stew and salmon cooked with vegetables in foil packets.

Cornmeal-Fried Catfish with Scallion Tartar Sauce

Fried fish with tartar sauce

This recipe was originally created for catfish, but any flaky white fish will do, including tilapia, cod and haddock. 

If you're sticking with catfish, try to source domestic, farm-raised fish and avoid anything imported from overseas. Mississippi has plentiful farms producing catfish with a sweet and clean flavor, without any of the stereotypical muddiness. Catfish fillets can range in size quite dramatically, so the fish may take up to 10 minutes to fry.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

Scallion Tartar Sauce

3/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke's

5 scallions, green and white parts only, thinly sliced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon chopped capers

1 tablespoon chopped dill pickles, plus 1 tablespoon pickle juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fried Catfish

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 cups buttermilk

3 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Pete's

4 boneless catfish fillets

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups yellow cornmeal

2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

Kosher salt

Instructions

To make the tartar sauce: In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, scallions, lemon juice, capers, pickles and pickle juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the fried catfish: In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 inches of the oil to 350 degrees over medium-high heat. Alternatively, heat the oil to 350 degrees in a deep fryer following the manufacturer’s directions. Line a large plate or platter with paper towels.

While the oil is heating, whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce in a large bowl. Add the catfish and let soak for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, cornmeal, Old Bay and 2 tablespoons salt in a second large bowl. 

Remove the catfish from the buttermilk, drain off any excess liquid and transfer to the flour mixture. Thoroughly coat the catfish on all sides, tap off the excess flour and transfer to a second large plate.

Fry the catfish in the hot oil, 2 fillets at a time, until the fish has cooked through and the breading is crisp, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate and season with salt. Repeat with the remaining catfish. Serve hot alongside the scallion tartar sauce.

Chef Kevin Mitchell created his own version of classic catfish and crab stew for "Taste the State." (Courtesy of University of South Carolina Press)

Kevin Mitchell's catfish stew

This recipe comes from Kevin Mitchell and David Shields's 2021 book “Taste the State," a guide to ingredients and recipes that form South Carolina’s unique flavors.

Here, olive oil stands in for bacon or butter, and fresh tomatoes, okra, corn and fresh crab brighten up the traditionally red stew.

Excerpted with permission from Taste the State: South Carolina's Signature Foods, Recipes, and Their Stories by Kevin Mitchell and David S. Shields, published by the University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, © 2021.

Ingredients

6 ounces olive oil

1 cup diced onion

1 cup diced green pepper

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup sliced fresh okra

1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

3 cups low-sodium chicken, vegetable or fish stock

3 cup diced fresh tomato, peeled, seeded and diced 

2 cups tomato purée

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

2 pounds fresh catfish fillets, diced

1-pound lump crab meat, picked through to remove any shell

1 cup chopped green onion

½ cup chopped parsley

Instructions

Heat 2 ounces of the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper and sauté them until the onion begins to get tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté the vegetables for an additional 2 minutes. Add the okra and sauté for approximately 3-5 minutes. Add corn and sauté for 3 minutes more. 

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the chicken stock, tomato and tomato purée. Bring to a strong simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cayenne pepper. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cook for 10 minutes. Add catfish and cook for an additional 10 minutes until fish is cooked. Add the crab meat. Place the pot over medium heat and cook the stew for an additional 5 minutes to ensure catfish is fully cooked and crab is warmed through. Add the green onion and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add parsley. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Serve over steamed rice or grits if desired.

One-Dish Salmon in Foil Packets with Asparagus, Fennel and Tarragon Vinaigrette

Packet-roasted salmon with asparagus

Fatty salmon turns rich and supple when cooked in its own juices. A dash of vermouth lightly steams the vegetables, while tarragon’s anise flavor acts as a vibrant foil to asparagus. 

If you don’t have Pernod, you can substitute Herbsaint or dry vermouth, or you can leave it out altogether. Extra vinaigrette will keep for at least 3 days in the fridge.

This recipe can easily be scaled up to serve four. Keep the vinaigrette amounts the same, but double the salmon, vegetables, lemon and vermouth. You will likely need to spread the foil packets out over two baking sheets.

Serves: 2

Ingredients

Tarragon Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons Creole mustard

1 tablespoon Pernod (optional; see note)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 ribs celery, finely diced

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

3 scallions, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

Salmon

1 bunch skinny asparagus, ends trimmed

1 leek, white part only, sliced into thin 2-inch-long strips

1/2 bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced

2 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets, pin bones removed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1/4 cup dry vermouth

Instructions

To make the vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk together the Creole mustard, Pernod (if using), cider vinegar, honey, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. In a slow stream, whisk in the olive oil until creamy and emulsified. Whisk in the celery, parsley, scallions and tarragon.

To make the salmon: Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil on a work surface. (If you don’t have heavy-duty foil, use a double-thick layer of standard foil for each salmon packet.)

In the center of each piece of foil, evenly divide the asparagus, leeks and fennel. Place the salmon on top of the vegetables and lightly season both the fish and the vegetables with salt and pepper. Arrange the lemon slices on top of each salmon fillet. Add 2 tablespoons vermouth to each pouch.

Fold the long sides of the foil to the center of the salmon. Fold the short sides over and pinch the foil to tightly seal into a pouch with the opening on top.

Transfer both pouches to a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake until the fish is moist and flaky, about 12 to 15 minutes. Open the pouch to expose the fish and vegetables, remove the lemon slices, drizzle liberally with tarragon vinaigrette, and serve immediately.

More great recipes to try

Pan-roasted fish with herbaceous compound butter: This straightforward but delicious recipe calls for red snapper, but your fishmonger can help you determine the best and freshest substitute if it's not available. Get the recipe

Grill Trout With Lemon And Fresh Herbs

Grilled trout with lemon and herbs: This recipe is simple and delicious, with fresh herbs, ground pepper, and extra virgin olive oil lending delicate flavor to the fish. This is the time to break out your best extra-virgin olive oil. Get the recipe

Salmon croquettes: This is an excellent budget-friendly recipe that calls for canned salmon, but you could also use flaked fresh cooked salmon or even ground fresh raw salmon instead. Get the recipe

Seared Salmon with Sugar Snaps and Horseradish Cream

Seared salmon with sugar snap peas: The spice of the horseradish makes a delicious foil for the sweetness of sugar snap peas. Salmon goes perfectly with both. Get the recipe

Seafood gumbo: This rich and flavorful gumbo recipe does not call for meat, so you're in the clear. It's highly adaptable and should come together with whatever looks freshest at the market, whether that's shrimp, crawfish, oysters or even all three. Get the recipe

Crawfish Succotash: This is a delightful one-pot recipe, perfect for crawfish season. It's intended as a side dish, but we say it would be just fine as a main dish, especially with a bit of rice or a big loaf of crusty bread and good butter. Get the recipe

Yucatan-style ceviche: There are few seafood dishes as refreshing as ceviche, and this version is no exception. Spicy and full of fresh citrus, it tastes like summer. Make sure to use only fresh fish and citrus fruit — no cutting corners. Get the recipe

Jumbo lump crap spaghetti: Solo diners rejoice! Finally an easy single-serving recipe. This rich, creamy pasta comes loaded with briny, lump crabmeat and gets a nice pop from garlic and chili paste. Get the recipe

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com