How to Fry Catfish

Three Methods:Crispy Breaded CatfishCajun-style Blackened CatfishServing Suggestions

Though it's not one of the world's prettiest animals, the long-whiskered catfish is absolutely delicious when fried. Prepared correctly, fried catfish has a mild, nutty flavor and an appealingly crisp texture. Best of all, this meal is easy, quick to prepare and not especially expensive, making it great for family get-togethers.


Crispy Breaded Catfish[1]

  • 8 catfish fillets
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon of your favorite hot sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cajun-style Blackened Catfish[2]

  • 6 catfish fillets
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons lemon pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method 1
Crispy Breaded Catfish

  1. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 1
    Marinate the catfish in buttermilk. Catfish can sometimes have an unappealing "muddy" taste if it's not prepared correctly. Luckily, marinating the catfish helps solve this problem. Remove the catfish fillets from their packaging. Rinse each fillet in water, then pat them dry with paper towels. Put the catfish in a cooking dish, an airtight plastic container, or zip-lock bag. Cover them with buttermilk and hot sauce, plus a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. Mix well and let the catfish marinate in the fridge.
    • The exact amount of marinating time varies from recipe to recipe. Most recommend at least 1-2 hours.[3] Some even recommend 24 hours or more.[4]
  2. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 2
    Dredge the fillets in breading mixture. Mix the cornmeal, flour, onion powder, and garlic powder in a large bowl. Remove the catfish fillets from the fridge and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Shake off the excess moisture, then sprinkle each fillet with a pinch of salt. Coat the fillets with the cornmeal mixture on all sides. Place each breaded fillet on a clean platter.
  3. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 3
    Heat oil in a large skillet. Set a thick, steep-sided frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Cast iron pans are best but any sturdy frying pan will do. Add oil to the skillet to a depth of 1 1/2 inches.[5] When the oil reaches a temperature of 350o (176.6o C), or just barely starts smoking, you're ready to cook.
    • For best results, use an oil with a high smoke point, like peanut oil, vegetable oil, or canola oil. Oils with low smoke points, like olive oil, will start smoking at lower temperatures and will produce more smoke overall.[6]
  4. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 4
    Fry fillets for 3-5 minutes per side. Add the fillets to the hot oil carefully with a pair of tongs. You may want to use an oven mitt for this — the oil may pop and sizzle unpredictably. Lay the fillets away from you (never towards you) to minimize the oil that can splash back at you.
    • Flip the fillets when they reach a pleasant golden-brown color on the lower side. This will usually take about 3-5 minutes.
    • Cook the fillets in batches, making sure there is at least a little space between each fillet. Crowding the pan will cause uneven cooking.
  5. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 5
    Allow to drain and cool. When catfish is cooked all the way through, it will be completely opaque on the inside. There shouldn't be a translucent or gel-like uncooked spot in the middle.[7] As each fillet finishes cooking, transfer it to a wire rack over a layer of paper towels. This allows the hot oil to drain and the fish to cool. Add new fillets to the pan as the first batch finish cooking.
    • If you can avoid it, try not to pile catfish fillets in a stack over a paper towel-lined plate like you'd do with bacon. The moisture and steam from the stacked fillets can ruin their deliciously crisp texture, giving you a soggy product.

Method 2
Cajun-style Blackened Catfish

  1. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 6
    Mix your dry ingredients to make a spice rub. In a small bowl, mix together paprika, lemon pepper, garlic powder, dried basil, onion powder, and thyme. To this, add salt and pepper as desired to give a good taste — a teaspoon or two of each should be plenty.
  2. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 7
    Dip fillets in melted butter. In a microwave or a small saucepan, melt the butter until completely liquid. Let the butter sit until it is still liquid but cool enough to handle safely. Carefully dip each fillet in the melted butter, letting the excess moisture drip off. Transfer the buttered fillets to a clean platter.
  3. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 8
    Coat the fillets with the dry rub. Using about a tablespoon of dry rub per fillet, coat the buttered catfish with the rub all over. Apply the rub generously — if you have any extra, feel free to sprinkle it over the rest of the fish.
  4. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 9
    Heat skillet over high heat. This frying method doesn't use any cooking fat beyond the little butter you have handy. This gives the fish a distinctly different texture than you'd get if you breaded and fried it in a fe,w inches of oil — it will have a thin, flavorful, almost "burnt" exterior. For this reason, you'll want to heat the skillet on the stove without oil for about 10 minutes.
    • The pan will be very hot at this point, so use all necessary caution. If the pan has a metal handle, use a towel or oven mitt to handle it.
    • Again, cast iron pans are best for their ability to retain heat, but any thick frying pan will work.
  5. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 10
    Sear quickly over high heat, turning after a few minutes. As soon as you add the fish to the pan, it should start sizzling immediately. The heat may cause it to stick to the pan. This is OK. The meat should cook very quickly in the hot pan. After about two or three minutes, the fish should be flaking easily. Flip it over, scraping the blackened material off of the bottom of the pan and cook the other side until it is similarly cooked.
    • Drizzle a little butter on the upper side of each fillet as it cooks. This will provide a little extra lubrication when you flip the meat, helping to prevent sticking.
    • Again, it's alright if the fish sticks to the pan a little. Scrape it off of the pan and keep going. The blackened texture that will result from this is exactly what you're going for with this recipe.
  6. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 11
    Serve straight out of the pan when finished. Once the meat is opaque all the way through and flakes easily, it's ready to eat. Transfer the fillets from the pan directly to each plate and serve immediately.
    • The key here is to cook the meat very quickly at this high heat. You want to cook the meat long enough to turn the dry rub into a delicious blackened crust, but cooking for too long can give you a dry, flavorless piece of meat. Mastering this can take practice.

Method 3
Serving Suggestions

  1. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 12
    Pair with hush puppies for a classic Southern feast. Hush puppies are savory bits of fried dough (a little like non-sweetened donuts). Fried catfish and hush puppies is a classic example of "Southern comfort" food. This pairing is tremendously satisfying, but beware — it's very rich.
  2. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 13
    Try with red beans and rice for a wholesome dinner. If you're a Southern dish that's a little more nutritionally substantial, try this delicious combo. Red beans and rice make a very satisfying dish on their own, but you can add "extras" like sausage, vegetables, and more to "spice things up."
  3. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 14
    Try making a rémoulade dipping sauce. Turn fried catfish into the perfect snack food with this Cajun condiment. Rémoulade is a spicy, savory mayonnaise. Not only is it great for catfish — it's also a good substitute for tartar sauce.[8]
  4. Image titled Fry Catfish Step 15
    Try with Okra and corn. Looking for something slightly more healthy to pair with your fried catfish? These vegetables, which are staples in Southern cooking, make great companions for any fried fish. You can try serving the vegetables plain or whip them into a maque choux (a sort of spicy casserole that also contains sausage).[9]


  • If you're looking for a cheap alternative to catfish, try tilapia, which also includes the nutritious omega-3 fatty acids common in catfish.[10]
  • If you're cooking inside, be sure to turn on a fan or open a window. Catfish tends to smoke easily.

Article Info

Categories: Fish and Seafood