Taste of the South: Fried Catfish

Breaded, seasoned, and fried, our fried catfish recipe will have you coming back for seconds.

Pair our Classic Fried Catfish Recipe with coleslaw, hush puppies, and baked beans for a complete meal.
Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas

Fried Catfish Recipes

Members of our Food staff have a tough time arriving at a consensus when it comes to the Southern delicacy of fried catfish. We tried a variety of techniques, from soaking catfish overnight to combining the best ingredients from several different recipes. We found 4- to 6-ounce, thin-cut, farm-raised fillets easy to manage in the skillet, and they curl up when cooked, giving great eye appeal. If you purchase frozen fillets, place them in a colander with a pan underneath, and thaw in the refrigerator overnight; otherwise, keep them in the coldest part of your refrigerator, and use within two days.

In searching for the perfect fried catfish recipe, we found the answer in a simple ingredient—cornmeal. It offers a crunchy texture without a greasy taste. Fried catfish opinions aside, we all agree our choices for side dishes are hush puppies, baked beans, and coleslaw. As for catfish condiments, a dab of ketchup and tartar sauce and a squeeze of lemon are high on our list.

Frying Catfish Tips

  • Select an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut oil.
  • Remove excess moisture from fish before dredging.
  • Keep one hand clean for dredging and the other hand available for frying.
  • Use a large Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet to keep the oil from popping out.
  • Don't overcrowd the skillet; fry, in batches, two fillets at a time. Bring remaining oil back to the proper temperature by using a deep-fat thermometer before frying the next batch.
  • Fish generally cooks 10 minutes per inch of thickness. If the catfish you buy is thicker, it will take longer to cook, Just lower the temperature slightly.
  • Remove fish from skillet with a wide, slotted, curved spoon.
  • To keep warm, place fried catfish on a wire rack with an aluminum foil-lined pan underneath; place in a 250º oven. For a crisp texture, do not cover fillets.