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Best Southern Fried Catfish Recipe

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This Southern Fried Catfish has a crispy golden brown cornmeal crust and is seasoned to perfection with fish fry seasoning. It’s a real crowd-pleaser and the best recipe for fish fries or a cookout! Serve it with spaghettired beans and ricecoleslaw, and a slice of white bread for a tried and true down home southern meal.

Updated 4/10/2024: Southern fried catfish is a classic Southern dish and a recipe you should always have in your repertoire, even if you don’t eat a lot of deep-fried foods. It’s a staple dish in Black soul food cuisine and learning how to cook it is almost like a rite of passage! This Southern fried catfish recipe is loved by all of our friends and family, even our kids (who are sometimes picky eaters!). Our favorite is catfish and spaghetti.

What makes our Southern fried catfish recipe unique is that it is made without buttermilk or all purpose flour. Our secret ingredients are cornmeal and yellow mustard. Not only do cornmeal and mustard fried catfish fillets make the crust feel light and crispy, but they also enhance the flavor and keep the inside flaky and delicious.

You can also use this same recipe to make catfish nuggets, fried whiting, or other types of fish.

What you’ll love about this Fried Catfish recipe:


  • CRISPY TEXTURE – The cornmeal coating creates a crispy and crunchy exterior, offering a satisfying contrast to the tender and flaky fish inside.
  • FLAVORFUL – The combination of Old Bay, lemon pepper, and other seasonings in the cornmeal mixture provides a well-balanced and flavorful profile that enhances the natural taste of the catfish.
  • SOUL FOOD – This recipe embodies the essence of Southern soul food cuisine. It’s a crowd-pleaser, making it a popular choice for family cookouts and gatherings.

Ingredients for Southern Fried Catfish

  • Catfish filets: We live in Maryland, so we typically use blue catfish. It has a less muddy taste than channel catfish. It’s also still very flaky and has a mild flavor. If using wild-caught catfish or channel catfish, you may want to consider soaking the fish in a buttermilk bath beforehand.
  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • Kosher salt: We use Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt (in the red box) for all our recipes. You can also use table salt, but we recommend using a lesser amount. One teaspoon of kosher salt is equal to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt. 
  • Ground black pepper
  • Granulated garlic
  • Yellow mustard: Mustard acts as a glue or binder for the catfish seasoning. 
  • Hot sauce: Crystal or Louisiana hot sauce is preferred.
  • Cooking oil: Neutral cooking oil such as canola oil, peanut oil, or vegetable oil is best for deep frying fish.

Fish Fry Seasoning

  • Yellow Cornmeal
  • Old Bay
  • Lemon Pepper Seasoning
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Granulated Garlic
southern fried catfish

How to Fry the Best Catfish

In this section, we go over the best way to fry catfish, including each step of the process, from cleaning and trimming the catfish filets to creating a flavorful cornmeal dredge and finishing with a crispy fry. 

Step 1: Clean and trim

The first step to preparing southern fried catfish is to clean and trim the catfish. If you are using blue catfish, which is what we primarily have in Maryland, you will especially want to remove the fat strip. 

The fat strip will appear as an elevated fatty ridge down the back. Take a sharp knife and remove all of the dark fatty ridges and trim any red flesh that remains from the entire length of the catfish. This will leave you with nice, white catfish filets. 

After removing the fat deposits from the belly, lay each filet down on a clean flat surface and cut lengthwise into a strip. Then, cut each strips into cooking-size portions.

Step 2: Prepare cornmeal and seasoned flour mixture

The next step is to combine the cornmeal, lemon pepper seasoning, Old Bay seasoning, granulated garlic, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl. This will be the dredge for your catfish filets. Set it aside until you’re ready to use it.

Step 3: Lather in mustard and hot sauce

In this step, you will spread mustard all over the catfish filets. Then, add a little hot sauce and toss the filets to evenly distribute the ingredients. 

Step 4: Dredge and fry

Heat oil in a dutch oven or large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat or deep fryer to 350° F. While the oil is heating, coat the catfish filets in the cornmeal mixture. Fry the filets in hot oil until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the internal temperature reads 145° F. Transfer the fried pieces of fish to a wire rack set over paper towels or a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil and allow fish to cool for 5 minutes before serving. 

Recipe Tips & Tricks

  • Fresh Catfish: Ensure your catfish is fresh. Look for firm, pinkish-white filets with a clean, non-fishy smell.
  • Preheat Oil: Make sure to preheat the oil to 350°F before frying. Using a kitchen thermometer will help maintain the right temperature.
  • Dredging Technique: Use one hand for the wet ingredients (mustard-coated catfish) and the other for the dry ingredients (seasoned cornmeal). This helps prevent clumpy and messy hands.
  • Frying in Batches: Fry the catfish in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, which can result in uneven cooking and a loss of crispiness.
  • Maintain Oil Temperature: Keep an eye on the oil temperature throughout the frying process. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a consistent temperature.
southern fried catfish

What to Serve with Southern Fried Catfish

We’re all about serving Southern Fried Catfish with a side of white bread and hot sauce! However, if you’re looking to make this a complete meal, here are some of our favorite classic sides and soul food catfish pairings. 

  • Collard Greens: Slow-simmered greens with smoked ham hocks, onions, seasonings, and a dash of red pepper flakes. It’s a quintessential Southern comfort food dish that will transport you to a cozy Sunday dinner at grandma’s house.
  • Mac and Cheese: Our recipe features cheddar, Monterey jack, and mozzarella, and is made without a roux. It’s decadent and comforting, and an absolute must-try for anyone looking to savor a taste of the South.
  • Spaghetti: Not your average pasta recipe, this spaghetti is made with smoked andouille sausage, onion, and bell pepper. 
  • Potato Salad: Our Southern potato salad has the best creamy texture and tangy flavor, with ingredients like mayo, mustard, hard-boiled eggs, pickle relish, and seasonings.
  • Red Beans and Rice: Red kidney beans, smoked ham hock, andouille sausage, bay leaves, bell pepper, celery, and onion are cooked with Creole spices and served with white rice. We also have a slow cooker red beans and rice recipe.
  • Coleslaw: Our creamy and crunchy BBQ Coleslaw is a Southern-inspired side dish that brings the perfect blend of textures and flavor. 
  • Cornbread: Our soul food cornbread recipe is easy to follow and yields a moist, tender crumb. It combines the rich tang of buttermilk with classic ingredients like butter and sugar for a delightful side dish that complements any Southern meal. We also have a sweet potato cornbread recipe!
  • Hush Puppies: These crispy, golden-brown nuggets of fried cornmeal batter are a classic accompaniment to fried catfish.
  • French Fries: Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, french fries are a beloved side dish that pairs well with catfish.
  • Lemon Wedges: Squeezing fresh lemon juice over your catfish adds brightness and freshness to each bite.

FAQ

What kind of oil should I use for frying catfish?

Vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and corn oil are some good options for frying catfish.

Can I use different types of fish for Southern fried catfish recipe?

Yes! We often fry whiting. Bream, crappies, or Big Bone buffalo are other great alternatives for true southern fried fish.

How can I tell if the catfish is cooked through?

The catfish should turn a golden brown color as they cook. The crust should be crispy, and the fish should look flaky and tender on the inside. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the fillet. Catfish is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). Undercooked fish will be translucent and may feel mushy.

What can I use instead of Old Bay seasoning?

Old Bay seasoning is a mix of paprika, salt, dried thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and celery seed. You can make your end blend using equal parts of each ingredient or adjust the flavors to your liking. You can also substitute for any other store-bought seafood seasoning.

Summary

A staple in Black soul food culture, fried catfish is a must-have in your culinary repertoire. Whether enjoyed with spaghetti or simple hot sauce and bread, this fried catfish recipe offers a delicious taste of Southern comfort that will keep friends and family alike coming back for seconds.

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Best Southern Fried Catfish Recipe

  • Author: cooks with soul
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Category: dinner
  • Method: deep fry
  • Cuisine: southern

Description

This Southern Fried Catfish has a crispy golden brown cornmeal crust and is seasoned to perfection with fish fry seasoning. Serve it with spaghettired beans and ricecoleslaw, and a slice of white bread for a tried and true down home southern meal.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 pounds of catfish filets
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • oil for deep frying (preferably vegetable or canola oil)
  • 3/4 cup yellow mustard

Fish Fry Seasoning:

  • 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 teaspoon granulated garlic


Instructions

  1. Clean and trim catfish filets.
  2. Combine cornmeal, Old Bay, lemon pepper, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic in a shallow bowl; set aside until ready to use.
  3. Place catfish in a separate large bowl and add mustard and hot sauce—toss filets in mustard mixture to coat evenly on all sides.
  4. In a large fry pan or deep-fryer, heat oil to 350° F. 
  5. While the oil is coming to temperature, dredge the catfish filets in the cornmeal seasoning mixture.
  6. Once the oil is heated to the correct temperature, fry fillets in batches for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the internal temperature reads 145° F.
  7. Carefully remove fried catfish from hot oil with a slotted spoon or spatula, set it on a wire rack over a paper towel, and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes

Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container. Reheat in an oven to maintain crispiness.

Keywords: southern fried catfish, fried catfish, fried fish, mustard fried catfish, cornmeal, fish fry

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