Because they thrive in a variety of conditions and climates, channel catfish are the most fished and most farmed species in the United States, and 94% of all farm-raised catfish come from the Southern states of Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. According to The Catfish Institute, the industry employs about 10,000 people and contributes more than 4 billion dollars to the economy of each state. A good thing for the South.
And a good thing for us is that catfish is lean and low in saturated fats. The fish is also a good source of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. A mild and versatile fish, catfish can be used in most dishes calling for a mild, white flaky fish, and is perfect when fried with a cornmeal crust.
A traditional accompaniment for Southern-fried catfish is hush puppies, small onion-flavored cornmeal dumplings that are a staple side dish in the South. If you are serving them with your catfish, follow the instructions included to cook simultaneously.
- 6 catfish fillets, about 5 to 6 ounces each
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Oil for frying
- 1 cup cornmeal, preferably yellow
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons table salt
- 1 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Preheat the oven to 200 F (93 C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a rack in the pan.
- Arrange the catfish in a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate; pour the buttermilk over the fish.
- Pour about 1 inch of oil in a deep, heavy skillet or heavy Dutch oven and place the pan over medium-high heat. (If you will be frying hushpuppies in the same pan, use a Dutch oven and 1 1/2 inches of oil.)
- Meanwhile, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, paprika, cayenne and garlic powder on a pie plate. Take the fish out of the buttermilk and dredge the fish fillets in the flour mixture to coat thoroughly. Shake off excess flour mixture.
- You are ready to fry when the oil reaches about 350 F (180 C); you can use a candy thermometer or drop a pinch of the flour mixture into the oil--if it bubbles and floats the oil is ready. Just be mindful of maintaining the oil temperature while cooking the fish in batches.
- Carefully arrange 2 to 3 fillets in the pan. Cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown. If the oil isn't deep enough to cover the fish, turn the fillets carefully after about 3 minutes.
- Remove the fish to the rack in the baking pan and place in the preheated oven while you cook another batch. Repeat until all of the fish are cooked.
- If making hush puppies, bring the oil up to 370 F (188 C) and fry them in the same pan.
- For a traditional fish fry, serve catfish with hushpuppies, tartar sauce, and coleslaw. Fried pickles are also often served with catfish.