Fried catfish is a Southern favorite that everyone should enjoy. The golden-brown, cornmeal, crusted fish is quick, easy to prepare, and goes well with your favorite sides and sauces.
When it comes to frying fish, you should be well-versed in three areas: the type of coating, the best oil to use, and the best fish to fry. And catfish is a great place to start.
Catfish, a freshwater fish prized for its gently sweet flavor and white, flaky texture, is one of the most excellent options for a traditional fish fry. It’s available across the country, both fresh and frozen, and reasonably priced. You can coat it with whatever you like, but the finest is a simple cornmeal crust that turns golden brown and crunchy hot out of the oil. When deciding which oil to use for frying, choose one with a high smoke point and a neutral or light flavor, such as peanut oil.
Giant wild-caught catfish can occasionally taste muddy, and catfish are bottom-dwelling fish—so soaking in milk or buttermilk helps reduce that flavor. However, farm-raised catfish can be absorbed similarly, the technique allows the cornmeal to stick to the fish.
While fried catfish is a Southern favorite, catfish have been collected and farmed for hundreds of years in Africa, Asia, Europe, and all over North America and are used in soups, stews, and grilled foods. The Southern version is often served with hush puppies, potatoes, and coleslaw, but you can do any fish-fry favorites alongside it. Remember to include the hot sauce!
How to Make Fried Catfish
Pattie Prescott, a Taste of Home contributor, contributed this dish. It makes six servings.
- a third of a cup of buttermilk
- 1 cup of white cornmeal
- a third of a cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon seasoning for seafood
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 6 catfish fillets (every 6 ounces)
- Deep-fat frying oil
Step 1: Make the coating
Buttermilk should be placed in a shallow basin or container. You can either immerse the catfish whole or dip individual pieces. Next, combine the cornmeal, flour, and seasonings in a separate shallow basin or container.
Step 2: Get the oil nice and hot
Pour enough oil into a deep skillet (cast-iron is preferable) to cover the sides by about 1 inch. The oil should be heated to roughly 375°F, the ideal temperature for frying fish.
Preheat the oven to 200°F to keep the catfish warm while you cook them in batches. Insert a wire rack on top of a baking sheet into the range.
Step 3: Coat the catfish
When the oil is ready, remove a slice of catfish from the buttermilk, letting the excess drip off. Then, dredge the catfish in the cornmeal-flour mixture.
Step 4: Fry the catfish
Shake off excess cornmeal from the catfish fillets and fry a few at a time for two to three minutes on each side once the oil reaches deep-frying temperature. Avoid overcrowding the pan. When the fish is done, it should flake easily with a fork.
Drain on paper towels before placing on an oven rack to keep warm and crispy while frying the remaining catfish. If the oil dips, ensure it reaches the proper frying temperature again to ensure crispy fish in every batch. Serve with your favorite sides after the catfish is done.
What to Serve with Fried Catfish
A typical fried catfish entrée may include hush puppies, creamy coleslaw, and french fries. However, you can serve whatever you’d serve at a fish fry, such as potato salad, tartar sauce, and bread and butter pickles. Hot sauce is also an excellent addition!
You can also serve the catfish with spicy aioli. In a mixing dish, combine 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Fried Catfish Tips
Can you use frozen catfish fillets?
Yes! Defrost the frozen catfish fillets first. Fill a basin halfway with boiling water, place the fish in a plastic re-sealable bag, and soak until the filet has some elasticity. After thawing, dip the fillets in buttermilk and the cornmeal mixture before frying as directed.
How can you make sure the fried catfish is crispy?
Maintain a constant temperature of 375° for the oil. Allow the oil to return to temperature if frying in batches; if it becomes too hot, reduce the heat and wait until it reaches the proper temperature. When deep-frying anything, a thermometer is a must-have tool. Also, do not overcrowd the pan with fish.
Can you freeze fried catfish?
You certainly can. Leftover fried catfish can be refrigerated for three to four days and frozen for up to three months. Please avoid using the microwave to reheat leftovers; it can dry out the fish. To get it crispy again, use an air fryer or oven.
Learn more: Creamy Tomato Soup Recipe