Learn how to fry catfish that’s crispy but tender, and just right when you dip it in some tangy tartar sauce or pile it high with your favorite cole slaw. It’s southern food at its core.
There’s a level of crispiness that fried 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.
It’s southern fried at its best and learning how to fry catfish is one skill you can master in no time. There’s no requirement that you have a cast iron skillet for this–you can fry in anything as long as you have enough oil in the pan but there’s one thing you can’t skimp on:
Good catfish seems to be harder and harder to find. The flavor should be really clean and light.
I recommend getting your catfish from someone local (I know, don’t roll your eyes, you’re sick of hearing that) or at least buying a frozen brand that’s not the cheapest thing on the shelf. Best case? You caught it yourself.
You get what you pay for. Trust me I know because I bought some of the nastiest stuff Walmart had to offer the other day. Gah. It was all they had. I’d list the brand here but I’m scared they’d come after me.
How to fry catfish you’ll love
- Use a flavorless oil like vegetable, peanut or canola oil for frying. No you can’t fry in coconut oil so don’t ask me.
- Make sure you bring the oil to the right temperature and depth for frying. That’s about 375 degrees. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, use a thermometer or something that’s temperature controlled like a Fry Daddy deep fryer.
- Don’t put too many pieces of catfish in to fry at once. The oil temperature will drop, and if there’s not enough space between the pieces they will steam instead of fry and the breading will fall off.
- Pour oil about 2 inches deep in your skillet if you’re using one. If you’re using a fryer, the oil will be much deeper. That’s fine.
- Try to use a good quality pan. Cast iron isn’t always necessary (though it is my favorite). You do want to avoid using your dollar discount store aluminum pan with the paper thin bottom though. Those suckers heat up like a fire cracker in a flash and you’ll burn your house down before you get the fish fried.
Does catfish have to be breaded to fry it?
I hear that there are people who don’t bread their catfish before they fry it. I don’t know who those people are. Or why they would do such a thing. Or what is wrong with them.
Yes, technically you can. But not for the intentions of what we are doing here. It needs to be breaded.
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.
Serve your fish with my favorite creamy cole slaw and some tangy tartar sauce.
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How to fry catfish (and make sandwiches)
- 1 pound catfish fillets, thawed about 5 fillets
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- vegetable or canola oil for frying
- 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.