Fried Catfish

Please welcome Hank Shaw as he serves up a Southern classic—fried catfish. ~Elise

Fried catfish is an icon of Southern cooking: For many, there simply isn’t any other way to prepare it. Arguments rage over whether it’s best deep-fried, battered, breaded with cornmeal, or even just simply dredged in flour. This, to my mind, is a healthy debate.

Now I love a good beer batter, and some fish are best with that simple dredge of flour. But not catfish. Catfish need breading. Cornmeal breading. There’s something about a cornmeal crust that really sings with catfish. Maybe it’s the combination of a truly American fish with a truly American grain.

This is a simple dish, but there are a few keys to good fried catfish: Hot oil, and the right breading. If you’ve ever had soggy, greasy catfish, it’s because the oil is too cold. You want it around 350 degrees. And use peanut oil if you can — it adds a lot of flavor. (Lard is even better… just sayin’.) For the breading, use fine, white cornmeal if you can find it. This, sadly, is not always easy outside the South. In the absence of fine, white cornmeal, use the regular stuff with a little flour. Unless it is finely ground, an all-cornmeal crust tastes gritty.

As for seasoning, what we provided below is just what I like to use; you can use whatever seasoning you want, from your own concoction to Lawry’s to Zatarain’s, Old Bay or even just lemon pepper.

Serve your catfish with whatever you want, but traditionally you’d want cole slaw and hush puppies, which, if you’ve never heard of them, are a fried cornmeal dumpling. Hot sauce on the side, too.

Fried Catfish Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.

This frying method works with pretty much any thin fish fillet: If you can't find catfish, use tilapia, bass, flounder, walleye, perch, rockfish, croaker or black seabass.



  • 4-6 catfish fillets, about 1-2 pounds
  • 1 cup milk or buttermilk
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup fine cornmeal (do not use coarsely ground cornmeal)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • Oil for frying (use peanut oil if you can)


1 In a heavy frying pan (I prefer to use cast iron), pour enough oil to come 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Turn the heat to medium-high. Turn your oven to 200° and lay a cookie sheet inside. Place a wire rack on top of the cookie sheet.

2 While the oil is heating, soak the catfish in the milk or buttermilk. Mix the cornmeal, flour and spices together. (Or you can substitute your favorite seasoning instead.) Let the oil reach 350 degrees — a good test is to flick a little of the dry breading into the oil, and if it sizzles at once, you're good to go.


3 Once the oil is hot, sprinkle the catfish fillets with salt and dredge them into the breading. Shake off the excess and gently lay into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2-4 minutes, depending on how thick the fillet is. Use a metal spatula and gently turn the fish over and cook for another 2-4 minutes. Cast iron heats up and stays hot, so monitor the heat as you fry; you may need to lower the heat on the burner at some point.


4 Once the fish is ready, move it to the oven while you cook the rest of the catfish. Keeping the fried catfish warm in the oven will help keep it crispy. When they're all done, serve at once with your favorite hot sauce, cole slaw and some hush puppies.

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Hush puppies - from Allen Williams of Eating Out Loud
No better fish to fry - recipes for catfish, hushpuppies, and chipotle lime mayo from Lisa Fain, the Homesick Texan
Green chile hush puppies - from Use Real Butter
Vietnamese Fried Catfish - from Viet World Kitchen
Gluten-free Fried Catfish - from Gluten Free Goddess
Claypot Catfish - from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Spicy pecan crusted catfish from Eat Live Run


Showing 4 of 29 Comments

  • Justin

    Two questions: Could yellow pollenta be used if it was further ground down in a spice grinder? Is there an alternate fish which is a good substitute for catfish? (if your in a part of the world without catfish)

    Yes, if you grind it fine. And as for alternative fish, I provide a raft of them in the recipe’s head notes. But if you are outside North America, any flat fillet will work. Nothing too oily or strong-tasting, though. ~Hank

  • Marjorie

    I love catfish! I was looking for a recipe that did not use beer batter. My grandmother used to prepare it with cornmeal, but I lost the recipe. Thanks for posting yours. I´ll try it today! My mouth is watering already! I love your site!

  • Judith

    This looks wonderful. My only problem is that I don’t know what to do with all the oil after I’ve fried the food. It seems so wasteful to throw it away (and peanut oil is expensive), and it’s thick and gluey after it’s been used. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    Good point. I save my oil by pouring it into a strainer that has a paper towel set inside; this removes any debris. I store it in a glass jar, mark it “fish” and reuse it 4-5 times. The oil is actually better the second and third time you use it. ~Hank

  • cookie62

    For Justin and anyone else: Basa and Pangasius are catfish family fish that are available in other parts of the world. In order to be legally called “Catfish” it must be raised or caught in the USA. We use both of the other types of fish in our cafeteria and they taste just like catfish.

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