Enjoy an easy and delicious southern fish fry for dinner with this pan fried catfish recipe. Catfish filets are soaked in milk, dredged in cornmeal and fried to crispy perfection. Serve with tangy coleslaw and sautéed greens for a tasty weeknight dinner that the whole family will love.
Today I’m taking a detour from my favorite fish and chips recipe to bring you a southern classic, pan fried catfish. Catfish is a staple in southern cooking and after one bite of this tasty fish, now I know why. With its golden, crispy exterior and delicate, flaky fish inside, it’s a dream to eat.
This bottom dwelling fish is named for its distinct whisker-like appendages called barbels that resemble cat whiskers. Catfish is farmed mostly in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Farmed catfish is a sustainable, clean and safe fish option (low in mercury).
Catfish has a sweet and mild taste with a moist, firm texture. Farm-raised catfish is a good source of protein, and is low in calories, but high in heart-healthy fats.
WHERE TO BUY CATFISH AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Catfish can be found at the fish counter and in the frozen section of most grocery stores. When buying fresh catfish filets, look for firm flesh with no strong odor or blood. Frozen catfish filets are easy to find in the freezer section of your grocery store. Freezing does not compromise flavor or appearance in any way. Thaw frozen filets in the refrigerator overnight or cook from frozen, allowing extra cooking time.
WHAT DO YOU SOAK CATFISH IN BEFORE FRYING?
Catfish is soaked or dipped in milk before frying. Farmed catfish is less likely to have a muddy flavor than wild-caught catfish. Wild-caught catfish is typically soaked in buttermilk for at least an hour to get rid of the muddy flavor.
WHAT OIL SHOULD I USE TO FRY
As the catfish are soaking in milk and you’re fixing the breading, now’s a good time to heat up the oil. I use canola oil for frying since it has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. Pour in about 1 to 1½ inches of oil in a heavy frying pan and heat to medium-high. You’re ready to start frying when the oil reaches a temperature of 350°F. Use a cooking thermometer to take the temperature of the oil. If you don’t have a thermometer, flick some dry breading into the oil, and if it sizzles when it hits the oil, you’re ready to fry.
As you’re heating the oil, turn your oven to 200°F and lay a cookie sheet inside. Place a wire baking rack on top of the cookie sheet. Since all of the fish filets won’t fit in the skillet at once, you can keep them warm in the oven until all the fish is fried.
WHAT IS IN THE CATFISH BREADING?
This recipe calls for cornmeal. Use white cornmeal if you don’t care for a gritty breading. It has a finer grind.
Place the milk-soaked filets in the cornmeal mixture, gently dredge to coat. Brown the fish in 350°F oil in the skillet.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE CATFISH TO FRY?
Since catfish filets are thin, they cook in the time that it takes the exterior to become crispy and golden brown. It usually takes about 4-7 minutes of frying per side. If you use a cast iron skillet, monitor the temperature and lower the heat if it becomes too hot.
WHEN IS FRIED CATFISH DONE?
The fish filet will become opaque and flake easily with a fork.
HOW TO KEEP PAN FRIED CATFISH WARM
As mentioned above, heat your oven to 200°F and lay a cookie sheet inside. Place a wire baking rack on top of the cookie sheet. Since all of the fish filets won’t fit in the skillet at once, you can keep them warm in the oven on the baking rack until all the fish is fried. Don’t cover the fried fish with foil or wrap it up, otherwise it won’t stay crispy on the outside.
HOW LONG DOES PAN FRIED CATFISH KEEP IN THE FRIDGE?
The fried fish will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days when stored in an airtight container.
HOW TO REHEAT PAN FRIED CATFISH
I use the oven to reheat fried catfish to keep the exterior crispy. Preheat the oven to 350°F as the fish comes to room temperature on the counter. Place the fish filets on a baking sheet in the oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.
WHAT SIDES GO WITH FRIED CATFISH?
Start with a lemon wedge for each plate, that’s a given. I like to have some tartar sauce on hand, and some coleslaw and sautéed greens. You can’t go wrong with buttermilk biscuits or hush puppies!
TIPS AND RECIPE VARIATIONS
· You can prep the pan fried catfish recipe ahead of time and reheat it in the oven about 15 minutes before you eat.
· Pan fried catfish sandwiches are epic. Serving the fish filets on rolls with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce.
· Try pan fried catfish tacos. Nestle panfried catfish filets in taco shells or tortillas with fresh salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
A fried fish dinner sounds intimidating to make, but this panfried catfish recipe is super easy to follow. Get these pan fried catfish filets on the menu this week—you won’t be disappointed!
Buttermilk Pan Fried Catfish
- 3-4 medium sized catfish filets
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- canola oil for frying
- Place the catfish in a glass dish or deep pan.
- In a bowl whisk together the buttermilk, salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning.
- Pour the buttermilk over the catfish. Cover and let rest in the fridge.
- Place the cornmeal on a baking sheet.
- In a large pan, add about 1 inch of canola oil and heat until the oil sizzles when you drop a sprinkle of cornmeal into it.
- Lift out the fish filets one by one and let the excess buttermilk drip off.
- Dredge each catfish filet in the cornmeal and then gently place it into the pan with the hot oil. You may have to do this more than once as you don't want to crowd the pan.
- Pan fry the catfish on one side for about 3-4 minutes in the hot oil and then flip it over.
- Cook for a further 2-3 minutes until the fish filets are firm and opaque when broken with a fork.