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Crispy Southern Fried Catfish Recipe

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Is there anything more synonymous with great Southern food than Southern fried catfish? The abundant catfish that live in the Southern lakes are a delicacy in the South. If you have never tried catfish then now is the time. This crispy southern fried catfish recipe will have you going back for seconds.

Crispy Southern Fried Catfish Nuggets

Once the catfish fillets hit that hot oil and those golden brown fried catfish nuggets come out of the grease, you know it’s about to be on. Plate the catfish up, and serve it with some hot french fries, hush puppies, slaw, and a squeeze of lemon from a few lemon wedges. You will be in hog heaven! We love to have a fish fry in the south.

Why You’ll Love Southern Fried Catfish

  • Crispy Texture– The batter or breading creates a crunchy exterior while the fish remains tender and flaky inside.
  • Easy to prepare– With simple ingredients and cooking techniques, fried catfish is accessible to cooks of all skill levels
  • Shared Experiences-Enjoying fried catfish brings people together, whether it’s at a family dinner, a neighborhood fish fry, or a local restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine.
  • Regional Traditions– As with shared experiences, deep-fried catfish is deeply rooted in Southern culinary tradition, making it a beloved cultural dish.

What Does Southern Fried Catfish Taste Like?

Fried Catfish is a moist, slightly sweet, and flaky textured fish. Catfish is one of the tastiest fishes if it is prepared right. One of the main things to consider on catfish fillets is cutting out the bloodline before cooking them. (see notes below for more on this topic)

This darker meat (called the bloodline) can have a strong and fishy taste. Removing it is the best practice. Once removed, you are left with pearly white fillets that are moist and delicate. Of course, if you are buying store-bought fillets, this has already been done for you.

incredibly easy southern tartar sauce recipe.
Southern Tartar Sauce

Catfish is also great to make in a stew. If you love soups and stews, you have to give this South Carolina Catfish Stew Recipe a try!

Also, do not forget to make this incredibly easy Southern Tartar Sauce Recipe to dip those golden fried catfish nuggets into! You will thank me later. 

Catfish is also a great meal to cook if you enjoy camping. Nothing is better than sitting around camp and enjoying Southern Fried Catfish. If you love camping, check out this list of Easy Camping Dinner Ideas!

Where to Get Fresh Catfish to Make Southern Fried Catfish

If you can get fresh catfish fillets, as in wild-caught catfish, those are best. If not you can buy them from most grocery stores or fish markets. 

Here are a Few Species of Catfish That are In Most Southern Waters 

Channel Catfish

These are the most common catfish you will find. If you buy store-bought catfish, this is the species you will be getting. This is the species that is mostly farm-raised catfish and the rivers are plentiful with them. This is a good-eating catfish but make sure to select the smaller ones versus the bigger fish.

Some people refer to these as government cats or government catfish. At one time the state or federal government gave them to people to stock their ponds for eating or so the story goes.

Blue Catfish

In my opinion, this is the best-eating catfish in the freshwaters. Again try to stay away from larger ones. Larger ones can be stronger in taste and are also breeder fish, so I recommend practicing CPR (Catch-Picture-Release) with the larger fish. 

Large Blue Catfish
Me holding a Blue Catfish

Flat Head Catfish

These are very good-eating catfish as well. Some anglers say that the Flathead is the best-tasting of all the Catfish varieties although they are not as plentiful in most lakes. 

Flathead Catfish caught by Blake Williams

Bullhead Catfish

In my opinion, this is not a good-eating catfish. You will also hear these called by the name of mudcat or mudfish. 

What You Need to Make Southern-Style Fried Catfish

This fried catfish recipe only requires a few simple ingredients.

Ingredients for Southern Fried Catfish

Buttermilk or Whole Milk- Catfish are usually soaked in a milk mixture. This will also help the breading stick to the fish but also helps to marinate the fish as well. Some say this helps with fish that have a stronger fishy taste.

I like to soak my fillets in buttermilk but my dad always likes to use sweet milk (whole milk with a red top). You will need just enough to cover the catfish fillets in a bowl. 

Seasoned Breading Mixture– I like a mixture of flour and cornmeal in my seasoned breading mixture.

I like a mixture of the two with some seasonings. I prefer this homemade Fail-proof Catfish Seasoning to use when I am cooking Southern Fried Catfish.

Seasoning– Salt and black pepper are a minimum I would use to season my catfish fillets. In my opinion, what makes the best catfish seasoning recipe is this Homemade Cajun Seasoning that is super easy to make on your own.

Cajun seasoning
Homemade Cajun Seasoning

I use this cajun seasoning to make this Fail-Proof Catfish Breading that is so good on fried catfish or any other seafood.

Oil– If you want the very best taste, I suggest using peanut oil. Canola oil or vegetable oil are good alternatives if you don’t have access to peanut oil. 

Hot Sauce– If you want your fried catfish to be spicier and to kick up the flavor, dredge the fish in hot sauce before dipping it into the seasoned breading. 

Note: See the recipe card at the bottom for quantities.

Equipment You’ll Need

  • Deep Fryer– My favorite deep fryer to use is the Fry Daddy. If you do not have a deep fryer, a stock pot filled half way full of oil will work. You can also pan fry the fish as well.
  • Instant Read Thermometer- There are a lot of brands out there but the only one I trust is the Thermapen by Thermoworks. You need accurate and quick readings to make sure the oil is at the right temperature before frying fish.
  • Skimmer (dipper)This tool is great for scoping fish out of the hot grease. I use this same brand and I have a short one and a longer one to use when I make Low Country Boil.

How To Cook the Catfish Fillets

Step-by-step Instructions

Protip: Fresh fileted fish will have a red tint to it. Washing it a few times will remove the blood. To remove the excess blood try soaking the fish in a salt brine the day before you are cooking. This will help pull out the blood that may be left in the fish. The results will be pearly white catfish filets. 

Prepare the Catfish Filets

Step 1

If you bought them from a store, they should be good to go. If you have fresh fish, you may have to remove the dark meat, which is called the bloodline. Failure to remove will result in a fishy or muddy taste. 

Remove the bloodline and any dark red meat for the best-tasting fish

With bigger, thicker fillets, you can make catfish nuggets. You just cut the fish into smaller square sections such as 2 inches by 2 inches or thereabout. 

Step 2

Start placing the catfish fillets in a container and then covering them with enough milk or buttermilk to cover the fillets. Soak the fillets for 30 minutes to an hour.

Catfish nuggets soaking in milk.

How to Cook the Catfish Fillets

Step 1

 Add oil to your deep fryer. If you are using a deep fryer such as a fry daddy, there should be a “fill-to line” on the inside of the fryer.

Deep fryer for frying catfish fillets
Presto Fry Daddy

If you do not have to have a deep fryer, you can use a heavy bottom large pot such as a 5-quart Dutch oven or even a cast-iron skillet. Fill the pot or Dutch oven to about ⅓ way with oil.

If you are using a cast iron skillet, put several inches of oil in the bottom. Not more than halfway.

Step 2

Preheat the oil in the deep fryer or large stock pot. If using the heavy bottom pot or cast iron pan, set the stove to medium-high heat.

You will need to monitor the oil until it reaches the correct temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a deep-frying thermometer or an instant-read thermometer to get the correct temperature.  

Step 3

Prepare the cornmeal and flour mixture. Add 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 cup of all-purpose flour to a large bowl or flat shallow bowl. 

Step 4

Add in your Cajun seasonings. Mix well to incorporate the seasoning so the flour and cornmeal get mixed well together.

Here is how I make my Fail-Proof Catfish Seasoning Recipe for frying. This is fish breading that can be used for seafood as well.

Step 5

Grab your first fillet or nugget from the milk or buttermilk mixture. Shake it off or let it drip to get the excess milk off of the fillet.

Next, dip them in the hot sauce if you are using that then let that drip off. Now place the fillets in the breading mixture. Coat all sides well. 

Step 6

Place the fillets on a dish or drying wire rack to set for a few minutes to allow the coating to adhere to the fish. 

Step 7

Once your oil has reached the correct temperature, you can gently lay it in hot oil.

Top Left: Checking Oil Temperature. Top Right: Dropping Catfish in the Hot Oil. Bottom: Golden Brown Catfish Nuggets

How Long Do You Deep Fry Catfish?

If you are using a deep fryer, you will notice the fish starting to float. Once they have reached a golden brown color, it is time to remove them. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes until the catfish fillets are ready. If you want to check the internal temperature, it should be between 140 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. 

If you are frying in a pan, flip them over to cook on the opposite side. You should cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until both sides are golden brown.

Step 8

Using a slotted metal spoon, metal spatula, or Skimmer, remove the fish from the oil. 

Dipping golden fried catfish nugfets out of the hot oil.

Step 9

Once you remove the fish from the oil, It is best to place the fish on a wire cooling rack over a baking or cookie sheet. If you don’t have a wire drying rack, you can use a baking sheet lined with brown paper bags or paper towels.

Another idea is to use a paper towel-lined plate. You need something to absorb the grease to keep the fish from getting soggy. I prefer the drying rack as this keeps the grease away from the fish. This allows the excess oil to drip away and allows the fish to stay crispy.

Note: Make sure you get the correct temperature of the oil by using a thermometer. If not, you will be left with soggy fish that is drenched in oil.

Variations

One variation that may be a healthier option is Air Fryer Catifish Nuggets. You would use this same process and the same fried catfish recipe, but instead of deep frying or pan frying, you would use the air fryer.

To Cook in the Air Fryer:

Preheat the air fryer for 5 minutes, then air fry for 10 to 12 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to flip the catfish nuggets about halfway through for even cooking and browning.

FAQ’s

Can I Use Olive Oil?

Technically you can use Olive oil but I would not use it if It were me. Olive is more expensive than peanut oil for the quantity you are using. Also, this can alter the taste of the dish as Olive oil has a unique flavor of its own. 

Can I Use Another Seasoning Other than Cajun Seasoning?

Yes. At the bare minimum, you could just use good salt like kosher salt or sea salt and black pepper. You could add in some onion powder, garlic powder, and a little cayenne pepper.

Some people also like to use old bay seasoning when making this dish. You can make it your own, but in my opinion, this homemade cajun seasoning recipe is the best for a catfish seasoning recipe for frying!

What Can I Use For a Sauce?

You can use a homemade Tartar Sauce or a store-bought tartar sauce. I like to sprinkle a little hot sauce such as Texas Pete or Franks Red Hot on my fish. At a minimum, you can use ketchup. 

What Does Catfish Taste Like?

If catfish is prepared right, it has a very sweet and mild taste. The texture is very moist and can be flaky. Catfish is a tender, fall-apart type fish that is not a firm fish such as Striped Bass, Mahi Mahi, or Halibut.

Is There a Way to Make This Dish Healthier?

Yes. You could always use an air fryer as a healthier alternative.

Another healthier option is to not use the breading. In this case, you would coat the fish in a little olive oil, then sprinkle or coat the catfish fillets with the cajun seasoning. You can then pan-fry it, air fry it, or even grill it. If you grill it, try using a cedar wood plank!

How Can I Store the Leftover Fried Catfish?

You can store the leftover fried catfish in an air-tight container. They will store for up to 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Side Dishes to Serve with Fried Catfish

Let me know how these Southern Fried Catfish turn out for you in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.

-Ronnie | Let’s Get Food Junked

Yield: 4 Servings

Southern Fried Catfish Recipe

This image shows the closeup shot of crispy Fried Southern Catfish. The catfish nuggets are on a blue plate with a lemon wedge in the foreground and a sprig of parsley tucked in the catfish nuggets.

Is there anything that is more synonymous with great southern food than fried catfish? The abundant catfish that live in the southern lakes are a delicacy in the south once it hits that hot oil and those golden brown catfish filets come up out of the grease. Having the right seasoning is one of the most important parts of getting the southern fried catfish recipe right. That is why I came up with this fail-proof catfish seasoning recipe. You can actually use this same catfish seasoning recipe with most fish that you want to fry. 

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound catfish filets
  • 2 cups buttermilk or whole milk
  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of Cajun seasonings
  • 1/2 cup of hot sauce (I prefer Texas Pete or Franks Red Hot)
  • Oil for deep frying

Instructions

Prepare the Catfish Fillets 

1. If you bought them from a store, they should be good to go. If you have fresh fish, you may have to remove the dark meat, which is called the bloodline. If you don’t remove this, this will result in a fishy or muddy taste. If you have bigger, thicker fillets, you can make catfish nuggets. Basically, you just cut the fish into smaller square sections 2 inches by 2 inches or thereabout.

2. If you are going to overnight soak the fillets, start the night before by placing the catfish fillets in a container and then covering them with enough milk or buttermilk to cover the fillets.

Cooking The Catfish Fillets

1. Add oil to your deep fryer. If you are using a deep fryer such as a fry daddy, there should be a fill-to line on the inside of the fryer. If you don’t have a deep fryer, you use a heavy bottom pot such as a dutch oven or even a cast-iron skillet. If you are using a pot, fill it about ⅓ way with oil. If you are using a cast iron skillet, put several inches of oil in the bottom. Not more than halfway.

2.  If using a deep fryer, plug it in to preheat the oil. If using the heavy bottom pot or cast iron pan, set the stove to medium-high heat. You will need to monitor the oil until it reaches the correct temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to get the correct temperature. 

3. Next, prepare the cornmeal and flour mixture. Add 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 cup of all-purpose flour to a large bowl or shallow dish.

4. Add in your Cajun seasonings. Mix well to incorporate the seasoning so the flour and cornmeal get mixed well together.

5. Grab your first fillet from the milk or buttermilk mixture. Shake it off or let it drip to get the excess milk off of the fillet. Now dip them in the hot sauce if you are using that then let that drip off. Now place the fillets in the breading mixture. Coat all sides well.

6. Place the fillets on a dish or drying wire rack to set for a few mins to allow the coating to adhere to the fish.

7. Once your oil has reached the correct temperature, you can gently lay it in hot oil. If you are using a deep fryer, you will notice the fish starting to float. Once they have reached a golden brown color, it is time to remove them. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes until the catfish fillets are ready. If you want to check the internal temperature, it should be between 140 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

If frying in the pan, flip them over to cook on the opposite side. You should cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until both sides are golden brown.

8. Using a slotted metal spoon, metal spatula, or skimmer, remove the fish from the oil.

9. Once you remove the fish from the oil, It is best to place the fish on a wire rack over a baking sheet. If you don’t have a wire drying rack, you can use a baking sheet lined with brown paper bags or paper towels. You need something to absorb the grease to keep the fish from getting soggy. I prefer the drying rack as this keeps the grease away from the fish and will result in the crispiest fish.

Notes

Note: Make sure you get the correct temperature of the oil by using a thermometer. If not, you will be left with soggy fish that is drenched in oil.

Did you make this recipe?

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Dan Bishop

Saturday 17th of June 2023

Good evening Ronnie. My wife does not like catfish. She does now. I am trying your recipes as I go along. This was an outstanding recipe. Tweaked just a little. Did not use hot sauce while cooking. I enjoyed the recipe. We used Frogmore stew last week end. I added crab legs and lobster tails. You really have some good recipes. Appreciate your blog.

Ronnie Williams

Saturday 24th of June 2023

That is awesome Dan. I love to cook this until the potatoes are falling apart and it helps to thicken it a bit. I am glad you like the recipes. Thanks for your support.

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