Southern Fried Catfish Recipe – This classic Southern fried catfish is dipped in buttermilk, breaded in spicy seasoned cornmeal, and then fried to crispy perfection. Pair it with homemade spicy tartar sauce, and you’ll have a match in heaven. 😇
Fried catfish conjures thoughts of finger-licking goodness and crispy crunch in every bite. When I bought these fish fillets at the market, I intended to bake them with garlic and salt. But I couldn’t stop thinking about fried fish – buckets of fried fish with hush puppies dipped in tartar sauce. So, I put the baked version on the back burner. 🙈
I remember living next to a local seafood restaurant and ordering everything on the menu, especially Southern fried catfish. I ate my way through the menu, from fried fish to calamari.
Sadly, those days are long gone because I’m not a young chick anymore. But I still indulge occasionally. You know it’s hard for me to completely give up food I really enjoy.
Deep frying adds gorgeous flavor and wonderful crispiness to any fish. Fortunately, the art of deep frying is easier than most people think. With a little guidance, you’ll be a pro in no time, serving up crispy, finger-licking catfish fillets.
The Best Gluten-Free Fried Catfish
The Best Gluten-Free Southern Fried Catfish
Another reason to love this recipe? It’s gluten-free! The ingredient list here is surprisingly minimal, even if the level of deliciousness suggests otherwise. 😉
There’s absolutely no flour in this recipe. Instead, I coat the catfish in cornmeal. I find the gritty crunch of the cornmeal adds to the appeal. The mouthfeel is pleasant and balanced when paired with the flaky fish meat.
- Vegetable Oil – Always opt for a neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point for deep frying. Peanut oil and vegetable oil are two great options.
- Cornmeal Breading – Seasoned cornmeal gives us a gritty crunch that beautifully complements the soft, flaky fish. Garlic and onion powder, cracked pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt deliver plenty of flavor to boot!
- Buttermilk – The thicker texture of buttermilk helps thoroughly coat the catfish fillets and makes the cornmeal and seasonings stick.
- Catfish – Fresh fish is the key to delicious fried fish! Fresh catfish fillets should smell like clean water; never buy fish with a fishy odor. Wild-caught catfish has a stronger flavor for die-hard catfish lovers. You can also use frozen fillets.
- Spicy Tartar Sauce – Mayo, finely diced onion, mustard, hot pepper relish, garlic powder, and a dash of hot sauce create an out-of-this-world tasty tartar sauce. Or use remoulade sauce for a flavor twist.
How to Make Southern Fried Catfish
- Heat a deep-fryer to 375℉ (190℃). Or fill a large pot halfway with vegetable oil and heat it over medium-high until it reaches 375℉ (190℃).
- Breading – Mix the cornmeal, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl.
- Dip – Pour the buttermilk into a separate bowl. Then, dip each strip of catfish in buttermilk before coating them in the seasoned cornmeal mixture. (If the fillets are too large, cut them into manageable-sized pieces.)
- Fry – Deep fry the fish a few pieces at a time, moving them around so they don’t stick. Fry until brown and crispy, 3-4 minutes per side or more, depending on the size.
- Drain – Remove the catfish fillets from the fryer with a slotted spoon and place them on a cookie rack to drain excess oil while keeping them nice and crispy. Repeat with the remaining fillets.
- Serve – Squeeze a wedge of fresh lemon over the fried catfish and serve with spicy tartar sauce.
Spicy Tartar Sauce
- Mix – In a serving bowl, combine the mayonnaise, garlic, hot pepper relish, onions, mustard, a dash of hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
- Chill – Cover with plastic wrap and let the flavors mellow in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
- Oven-fried. If you don’t want to deep fry these babies, you don’t have to! Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, batter the catfish as instructed, and then place it on the baking sheet. Bake at 425℉ (220℃) until the fillets are golden brown and flake easily with a fork; 15-20 minutes.
- Air-fried. Arrange the breaded catfish in your air fryer in a single layer and cook at 400℉ (205℃) for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through. Check for doneness, and air fry a little longer if needed.
- Customize the seasonings. Feel free to get creative with the seasonings. If you don’t do spicy foods leave out the cayenne pepper, for example. You can add other flavors you like, such as lemon zest and extra cracked pepper or your favorite herbs.
- Fish swap. Not a fan of catfish? Use your favorite white fish instead. Tilapia and red snapper are two great alternatives.
Tips and Tricks
- If it’s your first time frying fish, you might want to cut the fish into smaller chunks or strips. Whole fish fillets or large chunks can be somewhat daunting.
- Overcrowding your cast iron skillet or deep-fryer will lower the oil’s temperature, which can result in soggy fish. So stick with a few pieces at a time.
- For crispier results, I like using a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven. They retain heat better.
- The oil’s temperature should be around 375℉ (190℃) before adding the fish. That ensures the batter reacts and creates a barrier between the oil and the food. If your oil’s temperature is too low, the batter will soak up the oil.
As with most fried foods, you definitely want to make Southern fried catfish fresh! But you can prepare your seasoned cornmeal and buttermilk and dredge them the night before to save time. You can even freeze the breaded fillets for a month or two for a fast fix.
Serving and Storage Instructions
Serve Southern fried catfish fresh from the frying pan, just after it’s had a quick chance to drain. Garnish with lemon wedges and fresh parsley leaves for a pretty plating.
If you have leftover catfish, store it in an airtight container in the fridge. To reheat, pop it in the oven or air fryer at around 350℉ (180℃) until just heated through.
What Goes With Southern Fried Catfish
Make your whole meal Southern-themed with classic sides like hush puppies, cheese grits, turnip greens, and easy coleslaw. Fried catfish also pairs well with grilled potato wedges and grilled okra, which are excellent options if you like frying fish on your grill burner outside. That keeps the fried fish smell out of the house! 😅
More Fried Southern Delicacies to Try
- Southern Fried Chicken
- Easy Fried Okra
- Fried Cabbage
- Southern Style Fried Potatoes
- Sweet Corn Fritters
Watch How to Make It
[adthrive-in-post-video-player video-id=”6EcLZ1Fs” upload-date=”Tue Aug 07 2018 11:39:31 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)” name=”Southern Fried Cat Fish” description=”Southern Fried Cat Fish- Classic Southern Fried Catfish dipped in buttermilk and breaded in spicy seasoned cornmeal and fried to perfection.”]
This blog post was originally published in October 2016 and has been updated with additional tips, new photos, and a video
Southern Fried Catfish
- 1½ cups (225g) cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon (5g) granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon (2.5g) onion powder
- ½-1 teaspoon (1-2g) cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon (2g) white or black pepper
- 2 teaspoons (14g) salt adjust to taste
- 1½ cups (355ml) buttermilk
- 4 6-ounce catfish fillets
Spicy Tartar Sauce
- 1 cup (230g) mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon (3g) finely diced onion
- ½-1 teaspoon (3-5g) prepared mustard
- 3 tablespoons (45g) hot pepper relish
- 1 tablespoon (5g) granulated garlic
- Dash hot sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat a deep-fryer to 375℉ (190℃). Or fill a large saucepan with vegetable oil halfway and heat to 375℉ (190℃).
- Mix the cornmeal, granulated garlic, onion powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
- In another bowl, pour in the buttermilk.
- If fish fillets are too large, cut them into manageable pieces.
- Dip each catfish fillet in the buttermilk and let the excess drain slightly. Then, bread it lightly into the cornmeal mixture.
- Deep fry the fish in the fryer or saucepan a few pieces at a time, moving them around so they don't stick. Fry until brown and crispy, 3-4 minutes or more per side, depending on the size. These big chunks took about 6 minutes per side.
- Remove from the hot oil with a slotted spoon. Place them on a cookie rack to drain excess oil and ensure crispness. Repeat with the remaining fillets.
- Season the fish with lemon juice, and serve with spicy tartar sauce.
Spicy Tartar Sauce
- Combine mayonnaise, garlic, hot pepper relish, onions, mustards, hot sauce, salt, and pepper in a serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the flavors mellow in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
Tips & Notes:
- For the best possible results, start by making sure that your fish is absolutely fresh. Fresh fish should smell like ocean water. Please do not buy fish that have a fishy odor. Cooking won’t improve it. Speaking from experience here.
- If it’s your first time frying fish, you might want to cut the fish into smaller pieces or chunks. Strips. Whole fish fillets or large chunks can be somewhat daunting.
- Overcrowding your cast-iron skillet or deep-fryer will lower the oil’s temperature, which can result in soggy fish. So, stick with a few pieces at a time.
- For the crispiest result, I often use a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven because they retain heat better.
- The oil’s temperature should be around 375℉ (190℃) before frying to ensure that the batter reacts and creates a barrier between the oil and the food. If your oil’s temperature is too low, the breading will soak up oil.
- Once you remove the fish from the fryer, place them on a metal cooling rack above a sheet pan, so the excess oil can drain and prevent it from getting soggy.
- Please remember that the nutritional information is a rough estimate and can vary significantly based on the products used in the recipe.