Classic Southern-Fried Catfish

Catfish and Hush Puppies
dirkr/Getty Images
  • 17 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins,
  • Cook: 12 mins
  • Yield: 6 Servings
Ratings (23)

Catfish is a popular dish down South, and for good reason. Most of the farm-raised catfish in the United States comes from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. And although it can be prepared in a variety of ways, frying in a cornmeal coating is the most traditional. You will find fried catfish at the local fish fry, at that hidden fish shack, and even in a few skillets riverside after reeling one in.

A classic 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, cook them simultaneously. For a traditional fish fry, serve catfish with the hushpuppies, tartar sauce, and coleslaw. Fried pickles are also often an accompaniment.

What You'll Need

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

How to Make It

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a rack in the pan.
  2. Arrange the catfish in a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate; pour the buttermilk over the fish.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  1. You are ready to fry when the oil reaches about 350 F; 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Remove the fish to the rack in the baking pan and place in the oven while you cook another batch. Repeat until all of the fish are cooked.
  4. If making hush puppies, bring the oil up to 370 F and fry them in the same pan. 

A Versatile, Healthy Fish

A mild and adaptable fish, catfish can be used in most dishes calling for a mild, white flaky fish, and is perfect when fried with a cornmeal crust. So it is 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.