Crispy fried catfish is a delicious and easy-to-prepare Southern classic that has been a staple in our house for as long as I can remember. This mild fish is crispy and crunchy on the outside while staying tender and moist on the inside.
My Fried Catfish recipe is a little different than the typical fried catfish recipe. It’s dredged in a perfectly seasoned flour mixture without the addition of cornmeal. It makes the outside of the catfish golden brown, crispy, and crunchy and not as dry as the corn meal version of this dish.
If you’re planning a fish fry at your house, my crispy fried catfish is guaranteed to bring smiles to your table. There are so many options for side dishes with this Southern classic.
I love serving mac and cheese and collard greens with the fish. And if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll whip up a batch of hush puppies to go along with it. But no matter what you serve it with, it’s going to be a dish your whole family will love.
Ingredients to make Crispy Fried Catfish
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make my crispy fried catfish recipe. In Chef Speak, this is called the “Mise en Place,” which translates to “Everything in its Place.”
Not only does setting up your ingredients ahead of time speed up the cooking process, it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
What type of catfish should I use?
The most commonly raised and consumed species of catfish in the United States are the blue catfish and channel catfish. Channel catfish make up about 90% of all the U.S. farm-raised catfish and are commonly raised in the Mississippi Delta of the Southern United States.
Imports from Asia are on the rise, so make sure to check the label. I try to never buy seafood from Asian or Indian waters.
How to make crispy fried catfish
- Add the buttermilk, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to a large bowl and whisk to combine.
- Add the all-purpose flour, salt, and black pepper to a bowl or ziplock bag. Mix well to combine.
- Add the catfish fillets to the buttermilk soak.
- Fully submerge the catfish filet, then wrap the container with cling wrap or foil and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours), depending upon how much time you have.
*The longer you soak the fish, the more flavorful and tender the catfish will be.
- Remove the catfish from the buttermilk mixture, remove any excess marinade, and place the catfish filets in the seasoned flour.
- Turn the fish to coat the filet on both sides. Make sure it is well coated.
Remove the catfish from the refrigerator 15 minutes before you’re ready to cook it, allowing it to come to room temperature.
Add 2 – 3 inches of vegetable oil to a large cast iron skillet (Dutch oven or deep fryer) over medium-high heat until the oil has reached a temperature of 375 degrees F.
*Make sure there is enough oil to cover the fish with a room under it.
- Place both breaded filets on a wire rack until the oil is hot enough to fry the fish.
- When the frying oil temperature has reached 375 degrees F, coat the catfish one more time with the flour mixture and carefully add it to the hot oil. Fry for 5-6 minutes.
- Use a spatula to carefully flip the catfish onto the other side and allow to cook for an additional 5-6 minutes until golden brown.
*Don’t use tongs to flip the fish; it could cause the filet to break apart.
- Remove the fried catfish filets from the frying oil using a spatula, and place them on paper towels or a wire rack for one minute to allow any excess oil to drain.
Store any leftover fried fish refrigerated in an airtight container for two days. It can be frozen and reheated in a 350-degree oven until it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Soaking fish in milk or buttermilk will help remove any fishy smell and flavor from the filets. Depending on how you season the buttermilk, it will also add flavor and keep the filets moist and tender.
Deep frying seems to be the overall favorite cooking method when it comes to catfish. But it can also be grilled, baked, blackened, and pan-fried.
Vegetable oil, canola oil, or peanut oil are the best oils for frying foods. Make sure to heat the oil to around 350-375°F (175-190°C) in a deep fryer or a large, heavy skillet. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the catfish will come out greasy and mushy.