“Catfish can be found in most every river, lake, and pond in Texas, and we all grew up fishing for them,” says Tom Perini, owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, Texas, where fried catfish is on the menu. “Catfish is one of the few things openly accepted by ranchers and cattlemen as an alternative to beef,” he continues, explaining that you can now find farm-raised catfish in most every supermarket across the country. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the same as beef, I won’t push it away at the table—especially not when it’s fried like this.–David Leite
LC Texas-Style Fried Catfish Note
Make no mistake, there are umpteen approaches to frying this Southern staple. None is necessarily right or wrong. But this one is superlative. As you may have gathered, this is Texas-style fried catfish. If you’re from Louisiana or Mississippi or anyplace else that also swears allegiance to this whiskered bottom-feeder, we beg your patience. It’s not that we’re partial to Texas, we’re simply partial to this recipe. We’ll work our way to your state. In the meantime, you should really try fried catfish the Texas way. That is to say, this way.
Texas Fried Catfish
- Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg beaten
- 2 teaspoons seasoning salt (such as Lawry’s, Tony Chachere’s, or Zataran’s)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 cups finely ground yellow cornmeal
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Vegetable oil (enough so that the fish can be fully submerged in the oil)
- 6 catfish fillets (about 5 pounds total)
- Tartar Sauce (optional)
- In a shallow bowl, combine the milk, egg, seasoning salt, and white pepper and mix well.
- In a shallow dish or on a large plate, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, cayenne and black peppers, and onion and garlic powders.
- Pour enough oil into a 7-quart cast-iron Dutch oven or other similarly sized vessel so that the fish fillets will be submerged. (You want to make the oil at least 1 1/2 inches deep and, if you prefer to deep-fry your fish, at least 3 or so inches deep.) Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it registers 350° (175°C) on a deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer.
- While the oil heats, slice each catfish fillet in half lengthwise and pat it dry. Dip the catfish fillets, 1 at a time, in the egg mixture, completely coating the fish and letting any excess drip off. Dredge each piece in the seasoned cornmeal, turning and coating it completely. Shake off any excess cornmeal.
- When the oil is hot, carefully slip several fillets into the oil without crowding them (you will have to fry them in batches). Fry until the fillets are golden brown on the outside and cooked through on the inside, about 6 minutes. Transfer the fried catfish to a wire rack and let rest for a few minutes prior to serving. If desired, serve the Tartar Sauce on the side.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I didn’t expect this fried catfish recipe to be anything more than fried fish, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was fried fish, but it was especially tasty, light, crunchy fried fish. (The crunchy part is an especially big plus with me.) And it was quite simple to prepare. It involved nothing more than mixing the liquid ingredients and a couple spices, mixing the dry ingredients and a few more spices, and then a quick dip of the fish, and a fast fry. Heating the oil was the most time-consuming part of the recipe. I used about 3 inches oil so my fillets were completely submerged in the hot fat. The fish seemed to float after only a minute or so. I let the fillets fry 4 or 5 minutes total, until they were deeply golden. My husband ate his with tartar sauce and loved the crunch and flavor. I had a taste of the fried fillet unadorned and thought it was very nice just as it was. But I found this recipe’s true calling when I used the rest of the fried fish to make a couple seriously crunchy fish tacos. (My big complaint with fried fish tacos in restaurants is that the fish isn’t crisp. This easy DIY version solved that problem and more. This may not be the recipe’s intended purpose, but this is how I’ll start my fish tacos from now on.)
I felt like I was back home in Texas when I made this Texas-style fried catfish recipe, which made a beautiful platter of perfectly fried fish to dig into. Seasoning salt in my mind is always Lawry’s, but Tony Chachere’s could definitely be used for a little spicier bite. I use yellow cornmeal for catfish–don’t even think of using white. All the spices in the dipping mixture were great. My special equipment for frying fish is always a cast-iron skillet. I always fry fish in oil that’s about 1 1/2 inches deep (this is about 2 cups oil). The oil is ready when you drop cornmeal in it and the grains immediately move and pop. I didn’t use a thermometer, but it’s probably a good idea if you’re just learning to fry. The fillets need to be golden brown on both sides before removing them from the oil, which took 6 to 8 minutes total cooking time. Sweet coleslaw and cold beer complete the meal! Delicious!
This fried catfish recipe makes some damn fine eats. (Can I say that on this site? Too late…). I grew up catching catfish in a backyard pond, which my mother happily fried— expertly, I might add—for dinner. So I know and love my fried catfish. This recipe is a great place to start. Even if you’re a seasoned (pun intended) fish fryer, give this recipe a shot. It’s the real deal. The one bit of vagueness in the recipe is the “seasoning salt.” I used Tony Chachere’s. Back in my youth, in addition to the Tony’s, there was a jar of TexJoy steak seasoning on the table, and it is likely the recipe intends something like that.
A minor complication for me is the need to eat gluten-free, and the recipe does call for a bit of flour. Not a problem. I substituted cornstarch for the flour. Cornstarch has good clinging properties when used in a coating, so it’s a natural here, plus it has a neutral flavor that doesn’t interfere with the cornmeal.
The author asks you to get full-sized catfish fillets and then cut them in half. A lot of catfish sold in grocery stores is already cut into strips. You’ll know that you have 6 fillets if they weigh pretty close to 2 pounds, as stated in the recipe. The strips will be 3 to 4 inches across. If you have the strips, just skip the step where he has you cut them in half lengthwise and you’ll be good to go. Look for farm-raised catfish from the U.S. Unlike certain other types of farm-raised fish, U.S. farm-raised catfish is sustainable, environmentally friendly, and beneficial to migratory birds. Eat with a clean conscience. [Editor’s Note: We know some domestic farm-raised catfish farms meet these claims, although we can’t vouch for all U.S. farm-raised catfish.]
What to do with that used oil? You can often reuse frying oil, but in the case of this catfish, you can’t. Every county or municipality these days has some kind of plan for recycling cooking oil. A google search or a call to your local waste management department will get you the answer. I let the oil cool in the pot overnight, and the next morning I pour it off, using a funnel, into a repurposed 2-quart juice bottle or gallon cider jug. When I’ve accumulated enough jugs, I take them down the road to the county recycling center, and pour the oil into their barrels, bringing my jugs home for future use. Depending upon where you live, the protocol might vary, but I guarantee you that one exists, and you never want to put used oil in the garbage or down the drain.
Fry at home. It’s delicious.
This fried catfish recipe was a successful dish. It’s pretty easy and straightforward. It takes only a couple minutes—actually, the cleanup takes more time than the cooking. The only seasoned salt I had was celery salt, so I used that to season the egg and milk. In place of the cornmeal I used Bob’s Red Mill finely ground corn flour, which worked nicely.
I fried the fish in a 5-quart Dutch oven, which I filled with 1 quart (4 cups) sunflower oil, which is very neutral in taste. The oil was about 1 1/2 inches high. I fried 2 fillets, cut lengthwise in half, so there were 4 pieces, which fit perfectly in the pot the same time. The frying temperature was 350°F and it took 6 1/2 minutes to attain a nice golden color. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist, and flaky. I really liked the coating, it was thin and crispy. It was a nice contrast to the flaky fish and not overwhelming in flavor—we could actually still taste the fish. This recipe is a keeper, I will certainly make it again.
A stranger to fried catfish, I am not. Several of my formative years were spent in Mississippi, where catfish is farm-raised in the Mississippi Delta and featured in many restaurants year-round. During my summers in college, I worked for Mr. Catfish in Arlington, Texas (now closed, unfortunately), serving fried, blackened, and broiled catfish fiddlers (whole fish, which is the best with its sweet meat off the bones), fillets (certainly the easiest to eat), and steaks.
This recipe delivers. I used Zataran’s Creole seasoning and have used Tony Cachere’s and Emeril’s Essence as seasoning salts with great results. Given that I’m not a fan of “vegetable oil,” I always fry my catfish in canola oil.
Two fryers are usually employed for our catfish dinners & we always fry outside. I highly recommend a fryer, as clean-up is easy and the prep is simple as pie: Fill the vessel with oil to the line, set the temperature dial, and place the fish in the basket when the ready light is illuminated.
I do like this recipe; however, my default recipe is simpler and does not require milk and egg. This recipe can be very successful by dredging fillets, which have been patted dry with a paper towel into the seasoned cornmeal and flour mixture.
Serve with a zesty tartar sauce, sliced lemon, and raw sliced onion!
I made this fried catfish recipe twice. The first time I used stone-ground cornmeal that I had on hand. The grind wasn’t specified on the package, but I think it may have been more toward a medium than fine. It didn’t work out well. There were bits of cornmeal that were tough and chewy after the fish was fried. However, the flavor was extremely good, so I gave it another go—this time using a fine grind of cornmeal that was also degerminated. This worked out extremely well. A very fine grind on the cornmeal is an absolute must. The batter doesn’t come out as light and crisp as beer batter, but it’s still an excellent contrast to the fish. I used Tony Chachere’s for the seasoning salt, as that’s what I had on hand, and it gave the fish a nice little zing. I shallow fried the fish, so the strips were covered by no more than 1/4 inch oil. The fillets started to float at 5 minutes, but I went ahead and left the strips in the oil for 6 minutes and they came out golden brown and perfectly cooked.
Originally published May 21, 2014