The crispy exterior breading of this Southern Fried Catfish is perfectly seasoned with tender, delicious fried fish underneath. It can be ready in under 30 minutes and just as good as going to a fish fry!

Fried catfish on a wire rack over a baking sheet with hush puppies.
Table of Contents
  1. What You'll Need
  2. How to Make Fried Catfish
  3. Recipe FAQ's
  4. Tips for Success
  5. What to Serve With Catfish
  6. Storage & Reheating
  7. More Fish & Seafood Recipes
  8. Fried Catfish Recipe
  9. More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series

I'm kicking off Mississippi Week in my American Eats series with this favorite fish dish from across the South but one that is always a hit in the Magnolia State!

You can't go wrong with a plate of crispy fried catfish, some hush puppies, and coleslaw for a quick and easy dinner! This incredibly popular dish is a huge favorite in the Southern states, but especially in Mississippi where fish frys are famous for their golden brown catfish.

This fried catfish recipe uses simple pantry ingredients for the most part and is better than any boxed seafood fry mix, which often seem heavy on the garlic powder and light on other seasonings. Plus, it comes together in a jif and you can prep the catfish and breading earlier in the day so it's ready to dredge and fry quickly when it's time for dinner.

The flaky fish has a mild, slightly sweet taste that is perfect with just the right amount of spices of crunch of the cornmeal coating on the outside.

What You'll Need

Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.

  • Catfish filets - We recommend using farm-raised catfish that are fresh or have been frozen and thawed in the refrigerator before adding to the buttermilk marinade to soak. Wild-caught catfish sometimes have a muddy flavor that isn't very nice.
  • Buttermilk - If you don't have this ingredient on hand, an easy and excellent substitute is to combine 1 Tablespoon of vinegar with 1 cup of whole milk and let it sit for 5 minutes.
  • Cornmeal - I recommend using a finely ground yellow cornmeal for this recipe.
  • All-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • Spices - Seasoned salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, and black pepper add the perfect amount of spice to the cornmeal breading so it's perfectly seasoned and never bland.
  • Oil - Peanut oil or vegetable oil are my favorites for frying, although we have also used canola oil.
Ingredients for making fried catfish.

How to Make Fried Catfish

  1. Soak the catfish in buttermilk. Start by seasoning the catfish fillets with some kosher salt, then cover them with buttermilk to soak for at least 10 minutes but up to 8 hours. You could also use an egg wash with beaten eggs and milk instead, but in my experience the breading sticks better with buttermilk and I love the tangy flavor.
  2. Combine breading ingredients. I like to add the cornmeal, flour, and spices to a large ziplock bag so I can just shake the buttermilk coated catfish pieces, but you could also use a shallow dish for dredging instead.
  1. Coat catfish in cornmeal mixture. Remove the catfish 1-2 pieces at a time from the buttermilk soak and let any excess liquid drip off, then add it to the bag of spiced cornmeal and flour. Seal the bag and shake it a few times to coat the fish. If using a shallow dish, you can just dredge the fish on both sides until they are coated. Transfer the fish to a plate and set aside while repeating with the remaining filets and cornmeal mixture.
  2. Heat oil. Heat about ½ to 1 inch of oil (about 1-2 quarts depending on the size of your pan) in a large cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat until it reaches between 350 degrees F and 365 degrees F on a digital thermometer. The temperature is likely to fluctuate when you add the catfish pieces to the oil, so just keep an eye on it and adjust the heat as needed on your stove to try to stay in that range.
  3. Fry. Carefully place 1-2 filets into the hot oil. Don't crowd the pan. Let them from for 2-4 minutes on each side, turning halfway through the cooking process. You can tell they are done when they are a nice golden brown and crispy on the outside. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet lined with paper towels to catch any oil that drips off.

I always cook my hush puppies in the same oil used to fry our catfish once all the fish has been fried.

  1. Keep warm until ready to serve. Transfer the baking sheet with the fried catfish to a warm oven to stay hot while you fry the remaining fish. When you are ready to serve, you can either plate the fish individually or arrange them on a large platter with lemon wedges for squeezing over the top of the fish before eating.
A piece of fried catfish on a white plate with hush puppies, coleslaw, and lemon wedges.

Recipe FAQ's

Can I use a buttermilk substitute?

Yes, you can easily make a buttermilk substitute that will work for this recipe by adding 1 Tablespoon vinegar to a 1 cup measuring cup, then filling it the rest of the way with milk and letting it sit for 5 minutes to curdle before using.

Do I need a deep fryer to fry fish?

No, definitely not. I'm sure they are helpful for people who enjoying frying foods often, but since this is more of a treat for us, I have found that a good cast iron skillet works just as well for most foods.

Why did my cornmeal coating fall off?

If you are having issues with the cornmeal crust not sticking through the frying process, try a trick I use for my fried chicken - once breaded, cover the filets with a damp paper towel and let them sit for 10 minutes before frying until they are a little tacky on the outside. As the cornmeal coating absorbs the moisture from the buttermilk, it adheres better to the fish. Also, try handling the breaded filets as little as possible once you add them to the oil, turning them only once halfway through the cooking process.

Tips for Success

  • Work in batches. If you try to fry all your fish pieces at once, it's likely that they won't fit well in the pan and the temperature of the oil will drop significantly. Working in batches lets each catfish filet fry more evenly without getting soggy from oil that isn't hot enough.
  • Use a wire cooling rack instead of paper towels. I have found that when frying things, a wire rack does a better job than paper towels because excess oil can drip off without ruining the crispy underside of the catfish, which sometimes gets soft from sitting on the oil-soaked paper towels.
  • Cut the catfish into strips. If the catfish pieces are particularly large and you want more of the crispy coating on each piece, you can cut the filets into strips lengthwise so they get more of the breading on each piece. Just keep in mind that the smaller pieces will cook faster than a whole filet.
  • Catfish Po'boy Sandwich: You can use my shrimp po'boy sandwich recipe to make a catfish version topped with my homemade remoulade sauce.

What to Serve With Catfish

The classic sides for fried catfish for a fish camp menu are coleslaw, hush puppies, and french fries. The hush puppies and french fries are fried in the same oil used to fry the catfish and there is usually hot sauce available to add as much heat to your catfish as you like.

But we also like some of these sides with our fried catfish filets when we want something a little little than all fried sides.

Storage & Reheating

Like most fried foods, fried catfish is best eaten fresh the day it is made shortly after frying. But if you have leftovers, they can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days. I recommend reheating them in the air fryer at 370 degrees F for 5-7 minutes to crisp up the outside and heat them through.

You can also freeze fried catfish for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight then reheat in the air fryer or in a 350 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes, rather than in a microwave.

Pieces of fried catfish and fried hush puppies on a baking sheet.

More Fish & Seafood Recipes

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Fried Catfish

5 from 4 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 16 mins
Cook Time 4 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine American, Southern
Servings 4 servings
The crispy exterior breading of this Southern Fried Catfish is perfectly seasoned with tender, delicious fried fish underneath. It can be ready in under 30 minutes and just as good as going to a fish fry!

Ingredients
  

  • 1-2 pounds farm-raised catfish filets, thawed if previously frozen (4-6 filets)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Peanut oil or vegetable oil, for frying

Instructions
 

  • Sprinkle the catfish filets with kosher salt on both sides. Place the seasoned filets in a shallow dish or resealable bag and cover with the buttermilk, turning to coat. Set aside to soak while preparing the rest of the ingredients and oil, or transfer to the fridge for up to 8 hours to marinate.
  • Combine cornmeal, flour, seasoned salt, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in a large resealable ziplock bag. Whisk or toss to evenly disperse spices.
  • Heat ½ to 1 inch of oil in a large cast iron pan or skillet over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 to 365 degrees F.
  • Remove the catfish from the buttermilk soak 1-2 pieces at a time, letting excess buttermilk drip off. Transfer the catfish pieces to the bag of seasoned cornmeal and flour, seal, and toss to coat well. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining fish pieces and coating.
  • Carefully add catfish pieces to the hot oil, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Fry for 4-8 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown on the outside and cooked through in the middle. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillets. Be sure to watch the heat as the fish fries so you can adjust up or down to keep the oil temp in the 350 to 365 degree F range as much as possible.
  • Transfer the fried catfish to a baking sheet lined with a wire rack and place in a warm oven (225 degrees F) while frying the remaining catfish pieces.
  • Serve with coleslaw, hush puppies, french fries, and lemon wedges or other sides.

Notes

  • Storage: Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days. I recommend reheating them in the air fryer at 370 degrees F for 5-7 minutes to crisp up the outside and heat them through. You can also freeze fried catfish for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight then reheat in the air fryer or in a 350 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes, rather than in a microwave.
  • Use a wire cooling rack instead of paper towels. It does a better job than paper towels because excess oil can drip off without ruining the crispy underside of the catfish.
  • Cut the catfish into strips. If the catfish pieces are particularly large and you want more of the crispy coating on each piece, you can cut the filets into strips lengthwise so they get more of the breading on each piece. Just keep in mind that the smaller pieces will cook faster than a whole filet.
  • Catfish Po'boy Sandwich: You can use my shrimp po'boy sandwich recipe to make a catfish version topped with my homemade remoulade sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 384kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 69mg | Sodium: 2502mg | Potassium: 588mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 452IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 87mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series

Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • IdahoIllinoisIndianaIowa • KansasKentuckyLouisiana • MaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNew YorkOregonPuerto RicoSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTexasUtahWisconsin

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

  1. 5 stars
    I made this for my hubby who has some Alabama roots and he raved about it, and this non-fish girl LOVED IT! And those hush puppies, mmmhhh!