I have such fond memories of fishing with my grandfather and then coming back and frying fish right in his yard using an old propane fish fryer. He would clean and fillet the fish right outside using the water hose and then he’d fry them up after a simple cornmeal dredge.
There’s something about eating a piece of fried catfish that takes me right back to those summer days in Camden, Alabama.
But you don’t need a propane fish fryer or gigantic pecan-tree-lined yard to make perfect fried catfish – though I might argue it does make it taste better. A simple cast iron skillet or dutch oven in your own kitchen will work just fine. Let me show you…
Let’s start with the catfish. If you’re not catching your own, you’re probably grabbing catfish fillets are your local grocer. Be sure to ask for farm-raised US catfish. The unique, sustainable farming methods mean sweet, mild fish every single time. This is actually my preferred method of aquiring catfish.
Though I do love spending a day with a line in a pond, I often find that the flavor of catfish from some ponds can be quite “muddy,” so I like the more mild flavor of the farm-raised variety. Regardless, any catfish fillets will work.
I like to rinse my fillets and then do a quick soak in buttermilk. The buttermilk helps to remove any extra fishy flavors, keeps the fish moist, and helps the breading stick.
When it comes to the breading, cornmeal is a must. I go with a blend of plain cornmeal with a little all purpose flour. And for flavor, I mix in some garlic powder and a generous portion of lemon pepper seasoning. That magical combination of catfish and cornmeal goes perfectly with lemon pepper seasoning.
When it comes to the lemon pepper seasoning, I really like the Badia brand. One thing to keep in mind is that different brands of seasoning will have different levels of salt – some having none at all. So keep that in mind as you might need to add salt to the dredge if it doesn’t.
After they get coated, a 5 to 10 minute rest allows that coating to stick together better so it doesn’t fall off when frying. Then it’s in the hot oil to get them cooked off. For me, I love the flavor of cooking catfish in peanut oil, but realize it’s a little more expensive and not everyone can do peanut oil, so vegetable oil will work just as well. A quick fry of 5 to 6 minutes on each side will get most grocery-store-sized fillets cooked through without overcooking it. Just keep in mind that thinner fillets will cook faster.
Try it with my Dill Pickle Tartar Sauce:
Lemon Pepper Fried Catfish
- 4 to 6 catfish fillets (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 cup plain cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning
- vegetable or peanut oil for frying
- Rinse catfish fillets under cool water and lightly pat dry. Add the buttermilk to a shallow dish and coat the fillets in the buttermilk; set aside.
- In a shallow bowl stir together the cornmeal, flour, garlic powder, and lemon-pepper seasoning. Allow excess buttermilk to drip off each filet then coat in the breading mixture, pressing lightly to ensure a thick crust. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Pour the oil into a deep cast-iron skillet to a little less than halfway full. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the oil reaches about 350°F.
- Fry in batches for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels. Serve immediately with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and my Dill Pickle Tartar Sauce.