Classic Southern-Fried Catfish

Classic summer fried catfish recipe

The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 12 mins
Total: 17 mins
Servings: 6 servings

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, including grilled, 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.


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  • 6 (5- to 6-ounce) catfish fillets
  • 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

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for southern fried catfish
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  2. Preheat the oven to 200 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a rack in the pan.

    Foil-lined baking sheet and rack
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  3. Arrange the catfish in a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate; pour the buttermilk over the fish.

    Catfish fillets and buttermilk in bowl
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  4. 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.)

    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  5. Meanwhile, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, paprika, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder on a pie plate.

    Cornmeal, flour, and seasonings on a pie plate
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  6. Take the fish out of the buttermilk and dredge the fish fillets in the flour mixture to coat thoroughly. Shake off excess flour mixture.

    Catfish fillets coated in cornmeal and flour mixture
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  7. 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.

    Oil in skillet
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  8. Carefully arrange 2 to 3 fillets in the pan.

    Catfish fillets frying in skillet
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  9. 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.

    Catfish fillets frying in skillet
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  10. 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.

    Fried catfish on rack
    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic
  11. 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 that catfish is lean and low in saturated fats. The fish is also a good source of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.