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Classic Southern fried catfish gets a lighter, healthier, and easier makeover with this cornmeal-crusted baked catfish! It’s crispy on the outside, tender and flaky on the inside, and perfect alongside cornbreadcollard greenscoleslaw, and biscuits.

Front shot of a plate of baked catfish on a table with cornbread and salad.
Table of Contents
  1. Ingredients
  2. How to Bake Catfish
  3. What to Serve with Southern Baked Catfish
  4. Crispy Baked Catfish Storage Tips
  5. Recipe Variations
  6. Tips for the Best Baked Catfish Recipe
  7. Southern Cornmeal-Crusted Baked Catfish Recipe

Think of this recipe as your weeknight version of a Southern fish fry — minus the messy, time-consuming frying on the stovetop! Instead, the oven-fried baked catfish is a lighter, hands-off meal that lets the oven do the work. It’s still crispy and flavorful, but it’s much easier to pull together on a busy evening.

Process shot showing how to bake catfish.

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a tray of southern baked catfish. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Buttermilk: adds rich, tangy flavor, tenderizes the fish, and helps the breading adhere.
  • Yellow cornmeal: creates a crispy crust on the outside of the catfish.
  • Seasoned salt: a convenient blend of salt, sugar, and spices that adds great flavor to the breading.
  • Ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper: additional seasoning that flavors the cornmeal crust. No bland catfish allowed!
  • Catfish filets: cut larger filets into smaller 3-4 ounce portions so that they’re easier to work with.
  • Non-stick cooking spray: prevents the fish from sticking to the wire rack, and also helps the breading get crispy and golden brown in the oven.
Dredging catfish filet in cornmeal breading.

How to Bake Catfish

This oven-fried catfish comes together in about 30 minutes, with simple ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen! The detailed instructions are provided in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post, but here’s the quick version:

  • Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper.
  • Dip each filet in buttermilk, and then dredge in the seasoned cornmeal mixture.
  • Arrange the filets on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Spritz each piece of fish with nonstick cooking spray or oil.
  • Bake in a 450°F oven for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through and spraying the other side with the oil.
Spritzing catfish with nonstick spray.

How to Know When Catfish is Done in the Oven

The fish is done when it becomes opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Square side shot of crispy baked catfish on a white plate.

What to Serve with Southern Baked Catfish

For the perfect Southern baked catfish dinner, serve the fish with lemon wedges and tartar sauce for dipping, plus any of these easy sides:

Overhead shot of crispy baked catfish on a white plate.

Crispy Baked Catfish Storage Tips

The baked catfish is best served warm, directly from the oven. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for about 2 days. If you need to store the fried fish longer, you can freeze the leftovers for up to 1 month. It’s important to note, though — this crispy catfish tends to get a little soggy as it sits in the refrigerator.

How to Reheat

The oven is the best way to reheat your catfish in order to keep that crispy exterior. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Allow the fish to come to room temperature on the counter while the oven heats. Place the fish fillets on a baking sheet and warm in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or just until heated through.

Filet of southern baked catfish on a white plate with tartar sauce.

Recipe Variations

  • Use regular milk in lieu of the buttermilk. Whole milk is ideal, since it’s thicker and richer (more like buttermilk), but any variety will work.
  • Instead of nonstick cooking spray, use an oil mister with olive oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil to help the outside of the fish become crispy and golden brown.
  • Cooking just for two? Cut the ingredients in half. The rest of the instructions remain the same.
  • This is a mild fish. If you prefer some heat, you can add extra cayenne to the breading, or add hot sauce to the buttermilk.
  • Mix additional herbs and seasonings into the cornmeal breading. Try thyme, rosemary, chives, basil, oregano, or parsley. You might like some Old Bay seasoning, lemon pepper seasoning, or Creole or Cajun seasoning, too.
  • Make catfish sandwiches or po’boys by serving the fillets on hoagie rolls with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce or remoulade sauce.
  • Prepare catfish tacos by serving the fillets in taco shells or tortillas with fresh salsaguacamole, coleslaw, and all of your favorite Mexican-inspired toppings!
Filet of southern baked catfish on a white plate with lemon wedges and tartar sauce.

Tips for the Best Baked Catfish Recipe

  • Shake off the excess buttermilk and cornmeal each time you dredge the fish to make sure that you just have a light coating on each piece.
  • Spritzing the outside of the fish with the nonstick spray (or with oil) helps achieve golden brown, crispy baked catfish. Don’t skip this important step, or you may end up with soggy filets.
  • Serve the Southern baked catfish with lemon wedges (or a squeeze of lemon juice) and a fresh parsley garnish for a bright finishing touch. Tartar sauce is the perfect condiment for dipping!
  • Season catfish with additional kosher salt and ground black pepper, if desired, while the fish is still warm.
Close up shot of a bite of cornmeal crusted baked catfish on a fork.

More Baked Fish Recipes to Try

Square side shot of crispy baked catfish on a white plate.

Southern Cornmeal-Crusted Baked Catfish

4.75 from 4 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 25 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 88 kcal
Classic Southern fried catfish gets a lighter, healthier, and easier makeover with this crispy baked catfish!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup whole buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt (I use Lawry’s brand)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 lb. catfish fillets, cut into 3-4 ounce portions
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Optional garnish: tartar sauce, lemon wedges, and fresh parsley

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top. Coat the rack with cooking spray.
  • Place buttermilk in a shallow dish.
    Buttermilk in a glass dish.
  • In a separate shallow dish, combine cornmeal, seasoned salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
    Whisking together cornmeal breading.
  • Pat fish dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
    Process shot showing how to bake catfish.
  • Working with one piece of fish at a time, dip a catfish fillet in the buttermilk mixture, and shake off any excess.
  • Transfer buttermilk-soaked fish to the cornmeal mixture and gently roll to coat on both sides.
    Dredging catfish filet in cornmeal breading.
  • Repeat with remaining fillets.
  • Arrange the fish about 1-inch apart on the prepared wire rack. Coat the tops of the fillets with cooking spray.
    Spritzing catfish with nonstick spray.
  • Bake until crispy and golden and the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 15-20 minutes, turning the fillets over and coating with cooking spray again on the opposite side halfway through. Serve with tartar sauce, lemon wedges, and fresh parsley.
    Front shot of a plate of baked catfish on a table with cornbread and salad.

Notes

  • Use regular milk in lieu of the buttermilk. Whole milk is ideal, since it’s thicker and richer (more like buttermilk), but any variety will work.
  • Instead of nonstick cooking spray, use an oil mister with olive oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil to help the outside of the fish become crispy and golden brown.
  • Cooking just for two? Cut the ingredients in half. The rest of the instructions remain the same.
  • This is a mild fish. If you prefer some heat, you can add extra cayenne to the breading, or add hot sauce to the buttermilk.
  • Mix additional herbs and seasonings into the cornmeal breading. Try thyme, rosemary, chives, basil, oregano, or parsley. You might like some Old Bay seasoning, lemon pepper seasoning, or Creole or Cajun seasoning, too.
  • Make catfish sandwiches by serving the fillets on hoagie rolls with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce.
  • Prepare catfish tacos by serving the fillets in taco shells or tortillas with fresh salsaguacamole, coleslaw, and all of your favorite Mexican-inspired toppings!

Nutrition

Serving: 1filletCalories: 88kcalCarbohydrates: 16gProtein: 3gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 889mgPotassium: 95mgFiber: 2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 139IUVitamin C: 0.1mgCalcium: 21mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: baked catfish, crispy baked catfish, southern baked catfish
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. Mary Evans says:

    5 stars
    I love fried fish and this is the first time I have seen a recipe this easy to do fish in the oven. I will give this a try soon. Thanks for a great idea on cooking fish .

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Hope you love it, Mary!

  2. Connie says:

    5 stars
    Wonderful catfish – I was born in the south and loved the yellow cornmeal. Thank you so much for sharing

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      The best, right?! Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a favorite without the actual frying! 🙂

  3. Mary Meyer says:

    5 stars
    Love what you are doing with my favorite fish, the good old catfish. Every recipe is totally wonderful. Thanks Blair for taking my kitchen from bland and boring to delicious and exciting. Keep those tasty recipes coming.

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thank you so much, Mary!

  4. Nadia says:

    4 stars
    A nice alternative to frying. I used whole milk instead of buttermilk. My crust was a bit dry but I might have applied a bit too much cornmeal mixture, and next time I’d be a little more liberal with the canola oil spray. A light fry would still probably taste best, but this is good when you don’t want the mess of that. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Thanks, Nadia! I agree — it’s tough to beat classic fried fish, but this is a nice, easy, lighter alternative. 🙂

      1. Nadia says:

        Agreed! My local grocery has lots of catfish harvested from the Chesapeake bay, where they are an invasive species. I love making them and don’t like frying because the smell lingers too long so this recipe is a nice alternative. Will make again.