Is it the deep-fried goodness, the peppery cornmeal coating, or the moist, tender interior that makes fried catfish a favorite at dinner tables across the South? We can’t say for sure, but here are our test-kitchen’s tips for perfecting this down-home classic:
1. Start with the right cut. We found 4- to 6-ounce, thin-cut, farm-raised fillets easy to manage in the skillet, and they curl up when fried, giving great eye appeal.
2. Reach for the cornmeal. To make an unforgettable fish fry, we found the answer in a simple ingredient- cornmeal. It offers the kind of crunchy texture that we all crave. This is our favorite Classic Fried Catfish recipe.
3. Master the multi-task. Use one hand for dredging and the other one clean and dry for manning the slotted spatula.
4. Maintain proper frying technique. Use a large Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet to keep the oil from popping out. For the crispest results, don’t overcrowd the skillet (this will cause the fish to steam) and fry in batches.
5. Keep a deep-fry thermometer handy. Watch the temperature of the oil constantly and wait between batches until it reaches the proper temperature again before dropping in the next fillets so that all your fish cooks evenly.
6. Stick a fork in it! Especially if it’s your first time frying, and you’re nervous about when the fish is finished cooking, stick a fork in the thickest part of the fillet and twist it. If it begins to flake, it’s ready to eat.
7. Keep it crisp. Don’t place your perfectly fried catfish on a soggy paper towel. Once you pull the fillets out of the frying pan (we like to use tongs and give it a squeeze to release any excess oil), place them on a metal cooling rack above a sheet pan.
8. Don’t forget the sides! What’s fried catfish without coleslaw, baked beans, and hush puppies?
Test Kitchen Tip: If you purchase frozen fillets, place them in a colander with a pan underneath, and thaw in the refrigerator overnight; otherwise, keep them in the coldest part of your refrigerator, and use within two days.
What else do you recommend for a flawless fish fry?
Can’t get enough of our Southern Staples? Get all the recipes you need in our 100 Ways to Cook Southern slideshow.