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Southern Fried Catfish Recipe

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This easy southern fried catfish recipe is dredged in seasoned cornmeal breading and fried to tender and crispy perfection! Salty, flaky, crunchy, with just the right amount of spice! There isn’t much better than a hot and crispy piece of fish!

fried catfish strips on platter with lemon slices

The key to making awesome fried fish is to make sure your fish is fresh! It should smell like clean water. Any indication of odor at all will mean weird tasting fish, and no one wants that! 

You can make this recipe with a whole catfish, catfish fillets, or catfish steaks. Whatever you prefer!

Serve these with coleslaw and cornbread for a great traditional southern meal! And don’t forget the tartar sauce! Cajun Maque Choux Corn would also be great to serve with it!

Try these other great family friendly seafood recipes:

hand dipping fried catfish strip into tartar sauce

Deep Frying Tips

Frying food isn’t hard! Here are a few tips to get you feeling confident about trying it at home:

  • Make sure your oil is heated to the correct temperature. Oil that is too cool will result in the batter soaking up extra oil and lead to greasy food. Oil that is too hot will result in the crust burning before the fish is cooked properly. Using a deep frying thermometer is really important! 
  • Do not crowd your skillet! You want to make sure you only fry 2 or 3 pieces of fish at a time. Too many things in the oil at one time lowers the temperature of the oil and causes the crust to not crisp properly.

What kind of oil should I use?

The oil you use for frying should be clear, relatively flavorless, and should be able to be heated to high temperatures without smoking. When a hot oil starts smoking, it starts breaking down, and you don’t want that while you are cooking with it. Good choices are peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil. Olive oil is not a good choice for frying as it starts smoking at lower temperatures. 

How much oil do I need to fry fish?

The amount of oil you use for frying depends on what kind of frying you want to do. For this recipe, we need about 4-6″ of oil in the bottom of your pan.

How hot do I need to heat the oil to?

Place the oil in the cold pan and turn it on to medium-high heat. Getting the oil hot and keeping it at that temperature is important for correctly fried foods that are moist and tender inside and golden and crispy outside. Oil that is too hot will burn the outside while not cooking the inside. 

Oil that is not hot enough will cause the fish to cook too slowly, and it will absorb too much oil, which makes it taste not as good and also have a greasy mouth feel. 

You want to heat the oil to 335°–350°F. Use a deep fat frying thermometer to monitor the temperature while you cook. 

platter piled with fried catfish with top one showing flaky inside

How to fry catfish

This recipe is so easy to make! Its as simple as buying your ingredients, making a great crispy crust and then making sure you know how to fry it properly. 

  1. Rinse and pat dry your catfish (it needs to be fully thawed if it was frozen).
  2. Cut your catfish filets into thirds, if desired, but this isn’t necessary. 
  3. Add the buttermilk and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk well. Place the fish fillets into the buttermilk mixture and let it sit while you mix the dry ingredients.
  4. In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, and Cajun seasoning (affiliate link). Mix well. 
  5. Remove the fish fillets from the buttermilk mixture and dredge in the cornmeal mixture until fully coated. Shake off any excess breading and place on a wire rack while you repeat with the remaining fish. 
  6. Place the wire rack in the fridge to chill while you heat the oil, about 10-15 minutes.
  7. Start heating your oil in a cast iron skillet to medium or medium/high. It needs to be about 350 F and about 2-3 inches deep.
  8. When the oil is hot, gently drop 2 to 3 pieces of catfish at a time into your oil. Fry for about 6-9 minutes or until they start to float and look golden brown.  The internal temperature should be 340 F. 
  9. Place on a wire cooling rack to allow for the crispiest fish. 

For the full set of directions, make sure you scroll down to the recipe card below.

STEPS IMAGE

Prepping ahead of time

Fried catfish will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 days. Place it in an airtight container. 

To reheat, allow the fish to come to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350. Place the catfish on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until heated through. The oven is the best way to reheat the crispy exterior, the microwave will make it mushy.

overhead image of southern fried catfish on platter with lemon and tartar sauce

How to make this kid friendly 

Fried fish is a great kid friendly meal! With mild flavors, a tender inside and crispy outside,  kids will LOVE this meal! If they aren’t big on eating fish and you are just introducing it to your meal plan, try changing the way you discuss the food with your kids. 

How we talk about food is important. 

  • What does the texture of this fish remind you of?
  • What else do you think would be good to dip our fish into?
  • What colors do you see on our plates? What other things could we add to make our meal more colorful?

Read more about how to explore the sense of taste with your kids.

Add these dinner conversation starter cards to your family’s meal times to enhance your family’s table talk!

closeup of fried fish strips on platter

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The nutritional analysis for this recipe reflects an estimated 10% of the oil for frying as well as the full amount of the coating and breading. Therefore, the values represented may not be accurate.

Yield: 4 servings

Southern Fried Catfish Recipe

fried catfish strips on platter with lemon slices

This easy southern fried catfish recipe is dredged in seasoned cornmeal breading and fried to tender and crispy perfection! Salty, flaky, crunchy, with just the right amount of spice! There isn’t much better than a hot and crispy piece of fish!

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

Ingredients

  • 3 Pounds Catfish
  • ½ Cup Buttermilk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 ½ Cup Cornmeal
  • ⅓ Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Cajun Seasoning
  • Vegetable Oil (enough to fill your fryer halfway)

Instructions

  1. Rinse and pat dry your catfish (it needs to be fully thawed if it was frozen).
  2. Cut your catfish filets into thirds, if desired, but this isn’t necessary.
  3. Add the buttermilk and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk well. Place the fish fillets into the buttermilk mixture and let it sit while you mix the dry ingredients.
  4. In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, and Cajun seasoning. Mix well.
  5. Remove the fish fillets from the buttermilk mixture and dredge in the cornmeal mixture until fully coated. Shake off any excess breading and place on a wire rack while you repeat with the remaining fish.
  6. Place the wire rack in the fridge to chill while you heat the oil, about 10-15 minutes.
  7. Start heating your oil in a cast iron skillet to medium or medium/high. It needs to be about 350 F and about 2-3 inches deep.
  8. When the oil is hot, gently drop 2 to 3 pieces of catfish at a time into your oil. Fry for about 6-9 minutes or until they start to float and look golden brown. The internal temperature should be 340 F.
  9. Place on a wire cooling rack to allow for the crispiest fish.

Notes

If your cornmeal mixture is getting lumpy and won’t stick to your fish, add a touch more cornmeal and a dash of cajun seasoning and it should fix the issue.

Do not drop your catfish in cold or not fully heated oil. This will cause it to soak up a bunch of oil and not cook properly. Plus, it will turn out soggy and gross. If you drop the catfish in the oil and it doesn’t immediately start to give a good sizzle, remove it and wait for the oil to get hotter.

You can always check your oil temperature for the best results. It should be no less than 350 degrees. Once it hits that temperature, you’re good to start dropping the fish in the pan.
You don’t have to use a cast iron skillet. If you have another frying option, go ahead and use that. However, you’ll want to note that cooking times may differ.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 777Total Fat: 32gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 319mgSodium: 2140mgCarbohydrates: 46gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 72g

Nutrition information is an estimate and is provided for informational purposes only. For the most accurate information, please calculate using your specific brands and exact measurements. The nutritional analysis for this recipe reflects an estimated 10% of the oil for frying as well as the full amount of the coating and breading. The values represented may not be accurate.

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