Did I say I didn’t eat seafood? Well, this is my Southern fried catfish recipe. I do love a good fish fry with crisp cornmeal-breaded catfish. My mother always says catfish doesn’t count because it’s “pond food, not seafood.”–Christy Jordan

LC Southern Fried Catfish Goodness Note

This is Southern fried catfish goodness, plain and simple and perfect. For purists only. [Editor’s Note: We’ve just been advised from someone born and bred in Mississippi that “If you use white corn meal to bread Catfish in Mississippi you will be escorted to the border.” Okay, so no white cornmeal in the fair state of Mississippi, it seems. Unless, like us, you’re the rebellious sort.]

Southern fried catfish being fried in a cast-iron skillet

Southern Fried Catfish

5 from 1 vote
Plain and perfect–that's how I like my fried catfish. Crispy on the outside with a lovely flakiness on the inside, it's one of my favorite dinners.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories122 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time20 minutes


  • Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer


  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 3/4 to 1 cup white or yellow cornmeal, preferably finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 4 about 1 1/2 lbs catfish fillets
  • Lemon wedges
  • Vinegar or store-bought or homemade hot sauce
  • Homemade tartar sauce, for serving


  • Pour the oil in a large skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch and place it over medium-high heat until it registers 350°F (177°C) on a deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer. You want the oil to be hot but not smoking. Set out a wire rack over a baking sheet or place a brown paper bag on the counter.
  • Place the cornmeal in a medium bowl and stir in the salt and pepper. Dredge the fillets in the cornmeal mixture to coat on both sides.
  • Reduce the heat to medium. Place the fillets in the skillet and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 3 or more minutes per side, depending on the size of the fillets. (Be careful not to crowd the fillets. You may need to work in batches.) Transfer the fillets to the wire rack or brown paper bag.
  • Serve the fish hot with the lemon wedges, vinegar or hot sauce, and/or tartar sauce.

Adapted From

Come Home to Supper

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Serving: 1 servingCalories: 122 kcalCarbohydrates: 24 gProtein: 3 gFat: 2 gSaturated Fat: 0.3 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 1 mgSodium: 583 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Recipe © 2013 Christy Jordan. Photo © 2013 Ben Fink. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Call me a “purist,” but this Southern fried catfish recipe is perfect. The simplicity of the recipe makes it no trouble at all to prepare, and the result is light, flavorful fried catfish that pairs perfectly with slaw and whatever other accoutrements, such as fries or hush puppies, that you serve with it. A pound of fish will serve 2 to 3 quite nicely. To make an adequate serving for a party of 4, I’d use the 1 1/2 pounds. The timing in the recipe is perfect. I fried the presentation side (bone side) first and cooked the fish with that side down in the pan, allowing it most of the 5 minutes (3 minutes bone side, 2 minutes skin side.) To avoid overcrowding in the skillet, I split the fish into a couple batches. The fish cooks so quickly that I simply covered the first batch lightly with foil while I fried the second batch. You could also hold the pieces in the oven at 200°F or so, but I really don’t think it’s necessary to turn on the oven unless you’re already using it for another purpose. I wasn’t in the mood to buy or make tartar sauce, so I bought a jar of Kelchner’s Spicy Sriracha Sauce, which turned out to be a great accompaniment.

Absolutely, simply puristic—and so good ! The Southern fried catfish came out fantastic. Frying time was about 4 minutes per side and the fish was crisp on the outside, moist and tender inside. I served it with a preserved lemon and tomato relish on a bed of lentils. Yum!

I really like fried catfish and this Southern fried catfish recipe is exactly how I like to make it—with a good cornmeal crust, a crisp fry, lots of lemons, hot sauce, and, if I’m feeling fancy, some tartar sauce! I know that you can add a lot of spices and seasoning to the cornmeal to jazz up the fish, but it’s not really necessary. The fresh lemon and hot sauce are really a nice complement to the simply seasoned fish. My favorite hot sauce to eat with catfish is Franks Red Hot; it has a strong vinegar base, which is nice with the lemon. The cook time is spot on for a medium size fillet, 6 minutes, about 4 minutes for the top part of the filet (which I tend to put down first and then 2 minutes for the back made for a beautifully browned fish. I have had larger fillets and I’m certain that it would take a bit longer to cook, so the cook time is dependent on the size of the fillet. My pan was able to accommodate all the fillets, however I do think that keeping the fish warmed in a low oven, like 250 degrees would work just fine. I think catfish is best eaten fried and definitely think that this recipe will provide a great fried catfish experience!

Sometimes simple just works. This Southern fried catfish recipe taught me that I can skip the triple-dipping, buttermilk-soaking, and ingredient-assembling and just fry the darn thing and eat it already. Granted, this recipe makes a plain, simple result, but a good one. It’s perfect when the fish is the base for something else that’s flavor-packed—zippy homemade tartar sauce (my choice), modern coleslaw, spicy salsa, or a dressed po’boy. My total time was less than 20 minutes, active time 10 minutes. I actually had to stop my timer and stand around the kitchen as my household wasn’t ready to eat yet. The longest thing was heating the oil in the pan, this took about 10 minutes. A pound of catfish fillets was sold as 2 fillets at our grocery. I didn’t cut them down further and they both fit in my skillet, so no need to batch-fry. I heated the oven to 200°F and used a paper towel-lined sheet pan to keep the fried fillets warm. Cooking time was only 3 1/2 minutes total before both sides were golden, crisp, and the fish was cooked through. I served it with tartar sauce and found it to be excellent. Some coleslaw, too. And I used some of the dredging cornmeal to make hush puppies and fried them in the oil after the fish was out—a great use for something I’d otherwise throw away and it only took a couple minutes.

For a simple and basic preparation for Southern fried catfish, this is a good one. The basic preparation produced a crisp and delicious fried catfish. This is great for a weeknight meal with tartar sauce (homemade or store-bought) and tangy cabbage slaw. My fillets took 7 to 8 minutes total time to brown properly and I did all 4 fillets at the same time in the same skillet. This is a basic recipe, but I’ll make it again. I think next time I’ll add some cayenne pepper to the cornmeal mixture.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Hm. Would it be heresy if I fried the fish in in a mix of sunflower oil and bacon drippings/lard? 🙂

    1. Heresy is in the eye of those carrying torches. I carry no such torch for lard or bacon grease….

    2. I carry a torch for bacon drippings, Ling Teo, but I find it to be overwhelming when used to fry delicate things, which is what I suspect you’re thinking too. You don’t need my permission. But you have it.