How to Make Classic Southern Fried Catfish

Catfish and Hush Puppies With Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Catfish and Hush Puppies. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Because they thrive in a variety of conditions and climates, channel catfish are the most fished and most farmed species in the US. 94% of all farm-raised catfish come from the Southern states of Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and, 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.

Catfish is lean and low in saturated fats.

The fish is also a good source of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Catfish are a mild and versatile fish and can be used in most dishes calling for a mild, white flaky fish.

Classic Fried Catfish

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 6 catfish fillets, about 5 to 6 ounces each
  • 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

Heat the oven to 200° F (93° C/1/4 Gas Mark).

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. Note: If you will be frying hush puppies 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.

Take the fish out of the buttermilk and dredge the fish fillets in the flour mixture to coat thoroughly. Shake off excess flour mixture.

When the oil reaches about 350° F (180° C),* carefully arrange 2 to 3 fillets in the pan. Cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown. If the oil doesn't 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. See: Hush Puppies Recipe

For a traditional fish fry, serve catfish with hush puppies, tartar sauce, and coleslaw. Fried pickles are often served with catfish.

Makes 6 servings.

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