Light-And-Crispy Pan-Fried Catfish

Enjoy crispy catfish without the mess of a deep fryer.

Light-and-Crispy Pan-Fried Catfish
Prep Time:
5 mins
Cook Time:
8 mins
Total Time:
13 mins

Fried catfish is in regular rotation on Southern dinner tables. According to the Catfish Institute, 94 percent of the nation’s farm-raised catfish is from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and the institute even has put together a Catfish Trail where you can explore some of the many ways that Southern cooks prepare this mild-flavored, lean fish.

Our recipe is a lighter version than the typical deep-fried preparation, and it couldn't be easier: it only requires three ingredients!

How To Choose the Best Catfish

As with buying any fresh fish, it’s best to start by choosing a reputable fish market or supermarket fish counter, one where you know the fishmonger seeks out sustainable options and is scrupulous about quality.

In the display, catfish filets should be wet and shiny looking, with plump, white flesh, possibly with a tinge of pink, and no cracks in the flesh.

Have the fishmonger pack the fish with ice so it will stay fresh and cold until you can get it home, and cook it within a day or two. Raw fish will only last a day or two in the refrigerator.

What Oil Is Best for Frying Catfish?

In typical recipes like Classic Fried Catfish, an oil with a high smoke point is the best to use. Vegetable, canola, or peanut oil all work great, as does melted shortening. Healthier oil options like grapeseed or avocado oil are also good.

Don’t use olive oil, which will burn and break down quickly.

Do You Need To Soak Catfish Before Frying?

Soaking fish in milk or buttermilk will help remove an overly fish smell and flavor from a filet of catfish, salmon, or other fish. While you can incorporate this extra step into your preparation, it’s certainly not necessary when you’re making Crispy Pan-Fried Catfish.

What To Serve With Fried Catfish

Pan-fried catfish is best served with tartar sauce, lemon wedges, or hot sauce. Classic side dishes to go with it could include hush puppies, coleslaw, or a green salad.

Editorial Contributions by Jessica Harlan.


  • Salt and pepper

  • 4 (6-ounce) catfish fillets

  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal

  • 1 Tbsp. paprika

  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil


  1. Season catfish:

    Sprinkle 4 (6-ounce) catfish fillets evenly with salt and pepper to taste (or use a spicy seasoning blend, such as Creole or Caribbean jerk).

    seasoned catfish
  2. Mix cornmeal breading, and coat fish:

    Stir together 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal and 1 tablespoon paprika in a shallow dish. Dredge fillets in cornmeal mixture; coat lightly with vegetable cooking spray. 

    coating fish in cornmeal
  3. Cook catfish:

    Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat; cook fish 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until fish begins to flake and is opaque throughout.

    Light-and-Crispy Pan-Fried Catfish in skillet frying
Additional reporting by
Jessica Harlan
photo of a white woman with mid-length brunette hair

Jessica Harlan is an Atlanta-based food writer and recipe developer for Southern Living. The author of nine cookbooks, she's written about food for nearly 30 years.

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