Classic Southern-Fried Catfish

Classic Southern-Fried Catfish

The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 12 mins
Total: 17 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
629 Calories
38g Fat
34g Carbs
37g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 629
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 38g 49%
Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Cholesterol 114mg 38%
Sodium 1063mg 46%
Total Carbohydrate 34g 12%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 37g
Vitamin C 1mg 3%
Calcium 69mg 5%
Iron 2mg 13%
Potassium 782mg 17%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Catfish is a popular dish of the South and for good reason. Although it can be prepared in a variety of ways, including grilled, frying it in a cornmeal coating is the most traditional. And delicious too. Many recipes for fried catfish exist, but there are very few that can beat a few crispy, hot catfish fillets in a cornmeal crust. Our classic recipe, Southern style, will put dinner on your table in less than 20 minutes. You simply need to find the fillets, as the rest of the ingredients might already be in your pantry and fridge.

If you've been skipping catfish at the fish market, afraid of its muddy taste, don't turn it down again just yet. On the one hand, it is an affordable and nutritious fish, perfect to feed large families. On the other, the taste depends very much on where the fish fed and comes from. Not all catfish will have a muddy taste. Catfish is a bottom feeder, so it indeed eats dirt in the wild, but farmed catfish live in tanks without dirt, so farmed has a brighter flavor and is a fantastic source of nutrition. Most farm-raised catfish in the United States comes from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Packed with protein, catfish is also rich in selenium, vitamin B12, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. A 3-ounce fillet of raw catfish has barely 100 calories, but 13 grams of protein.

Hush puppies, small onion-flavored cornmeal dumplings, are classic accompaniments for Southern-fried catfish. You can cook them simultaneously for a quick meal, but you are going to need a big frying pan. For a traditional fish fry, serve your fillets and dumplings along with tartar sauce, and coleslaw


Click Play to See This Classic Southern-Fried Catfish Recipe Come Together


  • 6 catfish fillets, 6 ounces each 

  • 1 cup buttermilk

  • 1 cup cornmeal, preferably yellow

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons table salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 cup vegetable oil, for frying

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Southern-fried catfish recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

  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 / Abbey Littlejohn

  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 / Abbey Littlejohn

  4. Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, paprika, cayenne, and garlic powder on a pie plate.

    Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, paprika, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder on a pie plate

    The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

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

    Coat fish in the flour mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

  6. Heat up 1 inch of oil in a deep, heavy skillet or heavy Dutch oven over high heat.

    Oil in a pan

    The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

  7. The oil must be 350 F. 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. Don't overcrowd the pan, as doing so will lower the oil temperature.

    Flour in a skillet with oil

    The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

  8. Carefully place 2 to 3 fillets in the pan.

    Catfish fillets frying in skillet

    The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

  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 / Abbey Littlejohn

  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 fillets are cooked. Serve hot with your favorite sides.

    Classic Southern-fried catfish on a cooling rack

    The Spruce Eats / Abbey Littlejohn

Muddy taste in wild-caught catfish?

Getting rid of the muddy taste in catfish is just a matter of time. You have two choices:

  • Dissolve half a teaspoon of baking soda per quart of water. Submerge your fillets in the mixture and allow them to soak for 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge. Drain well, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels before proceeding with the recipe.
  • Cover the catfish fillets in buttermilk, place in the fridge, covered, for one hour. Drain, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels before soaking it again in the clean and unused buttermilk our recipe calls for.

What's the best oil for frying catfish?

Any vegetable oil will do a great job, but peanut oil is recommended because it has a high smoking point and gives the fish a tasty, nutty flavor. The most important thing when frying fish is to keep the temperature steady to guarantee a crispy crust. Oil at lower temperatures than 350 F will yield soggy and wet fillets.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Catfish, Raw. FoodData Central. United Stated Department of Agriculture.