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Classic Southern Catfish Recipe

Fry up a classic southern catfish recipe that’s crispy but tender, and just right when you dip it in some tangy tartar sauce or pile it high with your favorite coleslaw. It’s southern food at its core. 

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Learn how to fry catfish that's just the right amount of crispy but still moist and flaky inside. It's a true southern classic

There’s a level of crispiness that fried southern catfish just has to have. It needs to be just a tiny bit greasy–I mean, it is fried of course–but not soggy. And be seasoned with just the right amount of salt and pepper.

If you’ve ever bitten in to a piping hot piece you know what I’m talking about.

Lord I love to eat the ends that get all curled up and a little darker than the rest. My favorite.

What does catfish taste like?

There is a huge range in quality in the catfish world. If you get the good stuff (think local, freshly caught, or at least quality frozen fish), it should taste mild and sweet.

Catfish that is lower in quality can taste strongly fishy, bitter, and sometimes even a bit like dirt.

You are more likely to find these unpleasant tastes in larger filets, catfish that have been sitting on the shelf for too long, or from farm-raised products.

How to choose mild-tasting catfish

The fish is the star here, so be sure to choose your fillets carefully. Aim for locally caught if you can (fresh or frozen is fine). So long as they have been stored properly and are not past their prime, they will have the best flavor by far.

Try to get filets that are smaller in size. The larger they get, the muddier the flavor can be. Stay away from farmed catfish. They are full of additives and preservatives. 

Why soak catfish in buttermilk?

Buttermilk does a wonderful job of tenderizing the fish and helps to remove the muddy flavor often found in slightly less high-quality fillets.

It also has the added bonus of serving as a glue to bind the breading to the fish.

Do you rinse buttermilk off before breading?

No. There is no need to wash it off. The buttermilk actually helps the dry breading stick to the catfish. 

What’s the best breading for fried southern catfish?

You’ll find a lot of variations out there when it comes to breading for fried southern catfish. I have found that a mixture of cornmeal and flour works best. I use 1 part flour and 3 parts cornmeal plus salt and pepper.

If you want to add some extra seasoning to your breading, feel free. You could try paprika or maybe Old Bay seasoning. Looking for even more flavor? Try adding hot sauce to the buttermilk before soaking the catfish. 

How to keep the breading from falling off fried southern catfish

One of the most common problems people come up against when frying southern catfish is that their breading falls off. Here are a few tips to help you avoid this mishap. 

  • Get the temperature right. Keep the frying temperature at 365 degrees F. If it is too cool, the breading will become soggy and fall right off. It can be helpful to use a candy thermometer or to fry in something that’s temperature-controlled (like a Fry Daddy deep fryer).
  • Don’t crowd the pan. Adding too much fish to the pan at once will cause the oil to cool down drastically (see my last point to understand why oil that isn’t hot enough is a problem). Additionally, if there’s not enough space between the pieces, they will steam instead of fry. This will also cause the breading will fall off.
  • Don’t stack the fish. Once the fish has cooked, transfer it to a platter or a wire wrack lined with a paper towel. Do not stack the fish. Arrange the cooked pieces in a single. If the pieces are too close together, they will pour steam into one another, causing the breading to fall off. 
bread the catfish in cornmeal and flour then fry to golden brown

What oil do you use to fry catfish?

Use a flavorless oil that can stand up to high temperatures. I suggest refined coconut oil. It is less inflammatory than other options such as vegetable, peanut, or canola oil. 

How to keep southern catfish filets warm after frying

Want to keep your southern catfish recipe warm while you finish frying? Arrange the fried filets in a single layer on a baking tray or a cookie sheet and keep them in an oven preheated to 170 degrees F.

How to make fried catfish healthier

This is fried food so there is a certain element of “unhealthy” that you just have to embrace. That being said, if you are looking to make fried catfish a little healthier, here are some tips for you. 

  • Fry in refined coconut oil. This is a much better option for your health than more inflammatory oils such as vegetable, peanut, or canola oil but it does cost more so do what you want here.  
  • Air fry. Arrange the filets in a single layer (with plenty of space between them) in the basket of an air fryer preheated to 400 degrees F. Fry for 10 minutes on each side. Flip the fish again and fry for an additional 2-3 minutes if you want an extra crispy breading.
  • Bake. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and arrange the breaded filets in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is nice and flaky.
take that fried catfish and make it in to the best sandwich. Add lettuce, tartar sauce and a toasty bun.

Can I fry my catfish if it’s frozen?

Do you want third degree burns? You can’t safely fry anything that’s frozen because of the shift of water content from inside the item you’re frying.

As the water comes out from the thawing/frying item, it will hit the oil and splatter everywhere. It could even cause a fire. You’d be much better off–and safer– to thaw that fish pat it dry and then fry. Oil and water don’t mix, ever. Hot oil and water are an even worse combination.

What to serve with Southern catfish recipe

An entree as delicious as southern fried catfish deserves to be served with a stellar side dish or two. Tartar sauce is a classic, and here are some of my other favorite options. 

Learn how to fry catfish that's just the right amount of crispy but still moist and flaky inside. It's a true southern classic

Southern Catfish Recipe

This southern catfish recipe gives you that classic crispy crust and flavor you crave.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 5 people
Author Rachel Ballard


  • 1 pound catfish fillets, thawed about 5 fillets
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • oil for frying see note 1

For sandwiches

  • buns of your choice
  • tartar sauce


  • Pat the catfish fillets dry with a paper towel and set aside. 
  • In a medium shallow dish, add the cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Set aside. 
  • In a second bowl, beat the egg and milk. 
  • Add the oil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches in a large, heavy 10-inch skillet, leaving at least an inch of space from the top of the skillet. 
  • Over medium high heat, begin to bring the oil to 375 degrees. Bread your fish while you wait. 
  • Working with one piece of fish at a time, dip the fish first into the cornmeal, pressing the mixture on well, then into the egg/milk mixture then back into the cornmeal. Set the fish aside to rest while the oil heats. Repeat with the remaining fillets. 
  • When the oil is hot, add one piece at a time and fry until golden on one side–about 4 minutes, then turn and fry the second side. Make sure not to over crowd your pan, leaving 1-2 inches between the fish. 
  • Transfer the fish to paper towels to cool slightly. Serve warm on buns with tartar sauce if desired. 


Note 1:  Oil should be 2 inches deep in the frying vessel of your choice. If deep frying, fill your deep fryer to the level directed by the manufacturer.
Oil can be peanut, canola, vegetable, or refined coconut.


Serving: 1filetCalories: 223kcalCarbohydrates: 25gProtein: 18gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 55mgSodium: 515mgPotassium: 442mgFiber: 2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 85IUVitamin C: 0.7mgCalcium: 40mgIron: 1.4mg
Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
Course Main Course
Cuisine American

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About the Author

Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.