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Simple is best, and this Southern fried catfish is no exception. The easy dinner recipe only requires a handful of pantry staples, and it’s ready in about 20 minutes. Pair the crispy pan fried fish with classic sides like cornbread, collard greens, coleslaw, or biscuits for an old-fashioned supper that everyone at the table will love!

Close overhead shot of crispy fried catfish fillets in a cast iron skillet with lemon wedges and parsley

How to Make Fried Catfish | 1-Minute Video

Pan Fried Catfish

This is seafood at its best, y’all! A golden and super-crispy exterior, with a delicate, tender, and flaky inside. Join me for a fish fry, will you? Southern pan fried catfish is on the menu!

Do you want to add more seafood to your family’s diet (or just get out of that chicken rut)? For those of us who live in the middle of nowhere, it can be challenging to find tasty, easily-accessible fish. We don’t even have a seafood counter at our local grocery store, but I know that I can always find catfish at our local country market. The simple process of dredging the fish in seasoned cornmeal and pan-frying in shallow butter and oil yields crispy fillets with great flavor — and they cook quickly!

Hands serving fried catfish from a blue and white platter.

Is catfish good to eat?

Catfish is a popular source of protein that’s low in fat and low in calories. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, catfish is one of the five most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury and high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Farmed catfish is a sustainable, clean, and safe seafood option (source).

Dredging catfish in cornmeal

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for a batch of fried catfish. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Catfish fillets: you’ll need about 1 pound total, with each fillet weighing 3-4 ounces.
  • Yellow cornmeal: adds a crispy crust to the outside of the fish.
  • Seasoned salt: such as Lawry’s brand, which includes salt, herbs, and spices to add great flavor to the crust quickly and easily.
  • Black pepper and garlic powder: for even more flavor in the cornmeal.
  • Milk: helps the cornmeal mixture adhere to the fish. You can use buttermilk instead if you prefer.
  • Vegetable oil and butter: for frying the fish. The oil has a higher smoke point, while the butter adds great flavor. You can substitute with other mild oils like canola oil or peanut oil.
Process shot showing how to fry catfish

How to Fry Catfish

Not only is catfish easily accessible, but it’s also affordable and quick-cooking. That means that I can prepare a seafood feast for my family in about 20 minutes — from start to finish! And yes — frozen catfish (thawed in the refrigerator overnight) works beautifully for this recipe.

  1. Combine the dry breading mixture in a shallow dish (cornmeal and seasonings).
  2. Pour milk into a separate dish.
  3. Soak the catfish in the milk. Simply dip the fish in the milk to get it wet, and then shake off any excess.
  4. Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture and gently coat the fillets on all sides.
  5. Fry the fish in a hot cast iron skillet or Dutch oven with oil and butter until crispy and golden brown, about 5-7 minutes per side.
Fried catfish fillets in a cast iron skillet

How long does it take catfish to fry?

The catfish is thin, so it cooks through in the time that it takes the exterior to become a beautiful, crispy golden brown. You don’t have to burn the exterior in order to finish the inside, and you don’t have to transfer the skillet to the oven to finish baking. The fish will take about 5-7 minutes per side.

How to Tell When Fried Catfish is Done

You know that the fish is done when it becomes opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

How to Keep the Fish Warm

If you are cooking your fish in batches and you want to keep it warm while you finish the rest of the fillets, do not cover the cooked fish with foil or wrap it up. The exterior will not stay crispy if you do so.

Instead, heat the oven to 200°F. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet. Place the cooked fried fish on the wire rack and place it in the warm oven for up to 30 minutes, until you’re ready to serve the meal.

What to Serve with Fried Catfish

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

Close overhead shot of a plate of crispy Southern fried catfish.

Storage

The fried fish is best served warm, directly from the fryer. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator 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 fried 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.

Overhead shot of crispy fried catfish with a side of cornbread and collard greens.

Recipe Variations

  • Cooking just for two? Cut the ingredients in half. The rest of the instructions remain the same.
  • Substitute buttermilk for the milk. It will add a rich, tangy flavor.
  • This is a mild fish. If you prefer some heat, you can add a dash of cayenne to the breading, or add hot sauce to the milk.
  • Mix additional herbs and seasonings into the cornmeal breading. Try thyme, rosemary, chives, or parsley. You might like some paprika or onion powder, Old Bay seasoning, lemon pepper seasoning, or Creole or Cajun seasoning.
  • Make fried fish sandwiches by serving the fillets on hoagie rolls with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce.
  • Serve fried catfish tacos by serving the fillets in taco shells or tortillas with fresh salsa, guacamole and all of your favorite Mexican-inspired toppings!
Platter of fried catfish on a wooden table.

Tips for the Best Fried Catfish Recipe

  • Shake off the excess milk and cornmeal each time you dredge the fish to make sure that you just have a light coating on each piece.
  • Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to fry the fish in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. This will keep the oil at a steady temperature and will ensure crispy (rather than soggy) fish fillets.
  • Serve the fried catfish with lemon wedges and a fresh parsley garnish for a bright finishing touch.
  • Season the catfish with additional kosher salt and ground black pepper, if desired, while the fish is still warm.

Hands holding a platter of crispy southern fried catfish.

More Fried Seafood Recipes to Try

Close overhead shot of crispy fried catfish fillets in a cast iron skillet with lemon wedges and parsley

Crispy Southern Fried Catfish

5 from 7 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 222 kcal
Simple is best, and this Southern Fried Catfish is no exception. The easy dinner recipe only requires a handful of pantry staples and it's ready about 20 minutes!!!

Ingredients
  

  • 4 catfish fillets (about 3-4 ounces each)
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt (I use Lawry’s brand)
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Optional garnish: lemon wedges and fresh parsley

Instructions

  • Combine cornmeal, seasoned salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a shallow dish.
  • Pour milk into a separate dish.
  • Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Dip a catfish fillet in the milk, and shake off any excess.
  • Transfer milk-soaked fish to the cornmeal mixture and gently roll to coat on both sides.
  • Repeat with remaining fillets.
  • Place fish in the hot skillet and cook until golden brown on each side (about 5-7 minutes per side). The fish will flake easily with a fork when it’s done.
  • Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to cook the fish in batches.  Don’t overcrowd the skillet! Feel free to wipe out the pan and use additional butter/oil, as necessary, for subsequent batches.
  • Drain fish on paper towels.
  • Serve warm, garnished with chopped fresh parsley and a lemon wedge, if desired.

Video

Notes

  • Shake off the excess milk and cornmeal each time you dredge the fish to make sure that you just have a light coating on each piece.
  • Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to fry the fish in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. This will keep the oil at a steady temperature and will ensure crispy (rather than soggy) fish fillets.
  • Serve the fried catfish with lemon wedges and a fresh parsley garnish for a bright finishing touch.
  • Season the catfish with additional kosher salt and ground black pepper, if desired, while the fish is still warm.
  • Cooking just for two? Cut the ingredients in half. The rest of the instructions remain the same.
  • Substitute buttermilk for the milk. It will add a rich, tangy flavor.
  • This is a mild fish. If you prefer some heat, you can add a dash of cayenne to the breading, or add hot sauce to the milk.
  • Mix additional herbs and seasonings into the cornmeal breading. Try thyme, rosemary, chives, or parsley. You might like some paprika or onion powder, Old Bay seasoning, lemon pepper seasoning, or Creole or Cajun seasoning.
  • Make fried fish sandwiches by serving the fillets on hoagie rolls with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce.
  • Serve fried catfish tacos by serving the fillets in taco shells or tortillas with fresh salsa, guacamole and all of your favorite Mexican-inspired toppings!

Nutrition

Serving: 1(4 ounce) filletCalories: 222kcalCarbohydrates: 5.9gProtein: 14.7gFat: 15.8gSaturated Fat: 4.1gCholesterol: 36.7mgSodium: 659.3mgFiber: 0.6gSugar: 0.1g
Keyword: fish recipe, fried catfish, fried fish, pan fried catfish
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in February, 2018. The photos were updated in February, 2022.

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!

Read More

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Comments

  1. Southern recipes are always a hit with my Southern man so I’m going to have to try this! Thanks Blair!

  2. I don’t think I’ve seen catfish in the grocery stores where I live. What would an alternative fish be? Snapper?

    1. Hi, Caitlin! You might check in the frozen seafood section at your store — I find it there, too. If not, you can substitute with tilapia or flounder. The snapper would be fine, but it’s more like cod — meatier and thicker, so the cooking time will be different and you might get the crust a bit too dark while you wait for the inside to cook through. The snapper does have a mild taste, similar to the catfish, so from that standpoint it would be fine. You just want a thin, mild white fish. 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    Delicious! My husband and i had it last night and are still talking about it! The coating works great on shrimp too. Had that tonight. Excellent recipe. Thank you!

  4. 5 stars
    The recipe was very good…..easy and quick to make; fish was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. My only problem is that it said it was 222 calories and when I plugged it into My Fitness Pal it came up as 541….pushed my daily calorie intake right over the edge 🙁

  5. 5 stars
    Tried this recipe for my pot luck. Catfish turned out very tender and was delicious. Catfish went very quickly.

  6. We are trying to fit more fish in our diet because it is so good for us. I love your idea of putting it on a hoagie roll and making a yummy sandwich. I will make this recipe for dinner tomorrow. It sounds delicious!

  7. Hi, Blair
    Thanks for the recipe, I will be sure to try it out with my kids this spring. I grew up near Charlottesville, so your post seemed quite relatable! We (my fishing-age kids and I) were wondering what recipes you would recommend for other white fish like Sunfish- I love trout almandine, but not sure how that would work with sunfish.. Would you happen to have any suggestions? Something other than breaded or fried? Thanks!
    -Matthew

  8. 5 stars
    This is the best catfish recipe I’ve tried — just the right amount of seasoning and great cornmeal crust. Other recipes have been too spicy and salty for my taste. For acidity, I subbed in white wine vinegar for lemons. Delicious!

    1. Perfect! Thanks, Jonathan! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it, and I appreciate you coming back here to let me know. 🙂

  9. Good Morning Blair-
    Thank you for featuring this recipe this week. I have filets in the freezer I’d forgotten about. Today’s a good day to make your recipe!
    Thank you for sharing your talents & the beautiful photos of your area, Spring is here!
    Have a wonderful week!

    1. Yay! It’s one of my personal favorites, Kris. Hope you enjoy the fish, and have a great week ahead. I always love hearing from you on Sundays!

  10. Wow! The catfish had me drooling, lol. Had it in some restaurant while on a vacation many years ago, and have never forgotten it.
    Catfish isn’t available everywhere in our state. After seeing that luscious looking fish, I’m going to go on a hunt for some in the stores that have a fairly large selection of fish. If they don’t have it, (maybe it’s a seasonal thing in some areas?) I’ll be asking the person behind the counter a few questions. Wish me luck on this hunt.
    Cornbread looks very tasty, & it’s so versatile because you can make either muffins or a cake with it. A great pair fot the family to have for sure!
    Thank you so much for these Sunday blogs! It’s the first one that gets opened every Sunday.
    Have a great week!
    Sandra W.

    1. Thank you, Sandra! I’m so honored that you catch up with us here each Sunday! I hope you can get your hands on some catfish — that’s one of my favorite meals. We don’t have access to much fish at all around here, but catfish is definitely a staple. 🙂 Take care, and have a great week ahead!

  11. 5 stars
    This was my first time making catfish, & the family really enjoyed this. Easy to make with simple ingredients. The coating stayed on well when cooking, which was a plus.

    1. Perfect! Thanks, Renee! I’m so glad that your first attempt was a success. Thank you for coming back here to leave a note and let me know. 🙂

  12. Hi Blair,
    Would you mind telling me what kind of skillet that is in the pics, the one with hammered finish.
    Thanks
    Gary