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How to Cook Catfish
I’ve been cooking and creating fish recipes for decades, and I know how to cook catfish. Actually, I know how to cook lots of finned species, including those from freshwater and from saltwater sources. We love fishing, and we enjoy consuming what we catch. It’s a great experience to eat something fresh that you grew, caught, harvested, or killed yourself. When my ex was on strike years ago, we were pretty financially strapped for a couple of months. We ate a pretty steady diet of free food, including lots of venison and catfish. The deer were harvested from our woods and fields, and we had several farm ponds that were full of fish. Previously, I’d always enjoyed the mild, lean flesh of the fish, but I’ll admit, I got pretty tired of it. Hubby preferred fried catfish, and so did the kids and I, so I had to do something to make the fried version a little more exciting. The traditional southern cornmeal coating just wasn’t cutting it after awhile, so I had to “spice up” my recipes for catfish. I’m sharing that with you here, along with an easy hushpuppies recipe.
Cleaning catfish is a little different that cleaning most other types of fish. The whiskered bottom-feeders don’t have a thin skin covered with scales like most species have. Instead, they have a thick skin that lacks scales. When cleaning catfish, you can’t just scrape off the scales and remove the entrails. Of course, you still have to remove the innards, but you also have to remove the skin. This isn’t an easy task for beginners.
For cleaning catfish, you’ll need a pair of pliers or a special pair of catfish skinners. Some anglers find it easier to start at the tail, but it’s easier for me to start just behind the head. By the way, I make sure the fish is dead first. I don’t relish the idea of skinning some alive. Besides, the fish are much easier to handle when they’re not flipping around. To start the way I do it, make a shallow cut with a sharp knife all the way around the fish, just behind the gills. Hold the fish in your left hand by gripping the head with a dishcloth or by sticking your thumb in the fish’s mouth and clasping the lower jaw tightly between your thumb and forefinger. Take the pliers or skinner tool in your right hand, and grab the skin where you’ve make the cut. Pull the skin back toward the tail. Continue until all the skin has been removed. At that point, you can remove the head and the innards.
How To Clean Catfish:
What kind of catfish recipes have I tried? As I mentioned, I’m most familiar with fried catfish, but I’ve made other types of fish recipes with the kitties, too. I’ve tried grilling them, baking them, sautéing them, broiling them, blackening them in a cast iron skillet, and pan-broiling them. Most of these alternatives to frying were done with catfish fillets. Many cooks prefer using the fillets because they’re boneless and they have a uniform thickness, which makes them cook more evenly.
Catfish are available in several forms at supermarkets and fish markets. You can buy whole dressed catfish that have already been skinned, with the head and entrails removed. Of course, you can also buy fillets. Catfish nuggets are another choice that’s popular with some folks. The nuggets are small squares of fillets that are usually battered and fried. When we caught large catfish, we sometimes “steaked” them by cutting cross sections across the spine. I don’t know if these are available commercially or not – I’ve never seen them in stores.
Which presentations work best for catfish recipes? That’s largely up to the cook, and opinions vary. In my neck of the woods, many people like to fry small catfish whole. When I say “whole,” I mean the fish haven’t been filleted – the head and internal organs have been removed, however. The nuggets are a good choice for frying because they have more surface area, which means more tasty batter. The fillets are good fried, grilled, baked, broiled, sautéed, or pan-seared. I suppose you could cook the whole fish using these same methods I just mentioned, although I’ve never tried it. I do know of a place in the North Georgia mountains, however, that smokes whole dressed catfish on a meat smoker. I’ve never tried them, but hubby has, and he says they’re delicious.
While we’re on the topic of catfish recipes, let’s talk for just a moment about the different species of catfish. The fish can be found in both fresh and salt water and inhabit every continent on the globe except for Antarctica. They range in size from just a few centimeters to the giant catfish of the Mekong, which can reach a weight of over 600 pounds.
In the United States, channel cats are the most popular with fishermen. In fact, they’ve become so popular as a food that they’re being raised commercially, along with other species of catfish like the flathead, the blue, and the billhead. Other edible species in the South include the yellow bullhead and the black bullhead. We also have two saltwater catfish species – the gafftopsail catfish and the hardhead catfish - that are commonly caught while fishing for more desirable fish. Like most anglers, we’ve always considered sail cats and hardheads as “trash fish,” and we’ve never eaten them. I have been told, however, that the former species is tasty when fried. Of the different catfish species I’ve tasted, I prefer the channel cat, and of all the recipes for catfish I’ve tried, I like my fried catfish best.
How To Fry Catfish
Every traditional southern cook worth his or her salt knows how to fry catfish, and you’ll see fried catfish on the menus in many restaurants in the southeastern United States. For frying, you can use catfish fillets, nuggets, or small whole dressed fish. Larger individuals would need to be steaked or cut into sections to fry properly. With medium-sized specimens, they’re sometimes sliced in half, lengthwise, before being battered and fried.
How to fry catfish the old fashioned southern way? I’ve seen this done hundreds of times, and I’ve done it this way, myself, in the past: Just roll or shake the fish in cornmeal that’s been seasoned with salt and pepper. Once the fish is coated, it’s dropped into a pot of hot oil to fry. The frying temperature needs to be just right in order to get a crisp exterior and a flaky interior. 350 degrees is a good general guideline for frying temperature. Depending on the thickness of the fish, you might want to go slightly above that heat setting.
Fried Catfish - with spicy sauce
Fried catfish is a long time southern favorite, especially when it’s served with a side of hush puppies. You can use the recipe below for fillets, or if you prefer, you can make whole fried catfish by slightly adjusting the cooking temperature and the cooking time. You’ll find those tips below the main recipe.
How does my recipe sound?
- 1 pound catfish fillets
- 2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising cornmeal
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup Louisiana hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- peanut oil
- Rinse fillets and pat very dry with paper towels.
- Pour 1 cup flour into a deep bowl or bag. Combine remaining flour with cornmeal in a bowl or bag and add dry seasonings. Mix thoroughly.
- Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and hot sauce in a small bowl.
- Heat several inches of oil to 360 degrees in a large Dutch oven. Shake catfish fillets in flour, then dip in eggs and milk. Next, roll or shake the fish in the seasoned cornmeal mixture.
- Fry catfish until golden brown, about seven minutes. Drain on paper bags, paper towels, or racks.
- Serve with spicy mayonnaise sauce: ½ cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar,1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon grated onion, and 1 teaspoon minced garlic.
Whole Fried Catfish
For whole fried catfish, or fried whole catfish – not sure quite how to term it – use smaller fish. They’ll fry up much better than larger fish. Follow the same steps above, except for the cooking temperature and the cooking time. Heat the oil to 350 degrees before dropping in the fish. It will probably take whole fish about eight minutes to get golden brown and crispy. If you have whole catfish that are too large to fry, split them in half, lengthwise.
After you make your fried catfish, you’ll have some flour, some cornmeal, and some egg wash left over. Don’t toss them out! Turn those leftovers into some delicious hush puppies! What’s that? You never heard of hushpuppies? They’re also called corn dodgers, cornbread balls, fried cornbread, corn fritters, and cornmeal fritters. There’s an old story about how the fried morsels attained their name. It goes like this: Years ago, hunters would often spend several days at a time in the woods, hunting and fishing. Of course, they’d have their hound dogs with them. At night, the men would often fry fish over the fire, in a big kettle of grease. They’d mix the leftover fish breading with a little water and drop the batter into the hot oil. The dogs would smell the bread and start whining for some, so the men would toss a few to the hounds, saying, “Hush, puppy!” I have no clue as to the veracity of that tale, but it sure seems to fit.
Hush puppies are the perfect accompaniment to fried fish, fried shrimp, fried oysters, crab cakes, frog legs, and fried gator tail. They’re also good with barbecued pork. In 99% of the seafood restaurants in the South, you’ll get hushpuppies served with your seafood. They’re tasty with vegetables, too, especially ones like greens that have been cooked with smoked ham hock.
Many southern cooks use all cornmeal in their hush puppies, but I make mine a little differently. I include flour in mine because it makes them fluffier and not as “grainy.” I also like mine with lots of onion and with enough sugar to slightly sweeten the batter. There’s no “right way” to make the puppies. Start with a blend of self-rising flour and self-rising cornmeal. To make a wet batter, add an egg, along with some milk, buttermilk, and/or beer. As far as other ingredients are concerned, you might want to add chopped onion, scallions, chopped bell pepper, jalapenos, chopped celery, garlic, snipped chives, or bacon bits. Chopped fresh apple is also a nice addition.
Hush Puppies Recipe
Take the leftover flour and flour-cornmeal mixture you have left from cooking catfish and add it the bowl with the eggs and buttermilk. Add some chopped onion and some garlic powder. Sweeten the batter to taste with granulated white sugar. Add just enough milk or beer – or a little of both – to create a stiff batter. Let the batter rest while you increase the temperature of the oil. It needs to be between 370 and 375 degrees. When the oil is at the right temperature, drop the batter by teaspoonfuls into the hot grease. You can rinse the teaspoon between drops with water, if you like. Don’t add too much batter at one time. Crowding will make the oil temperature drop too much. Once the hush puppies brown on one side, you’ll need to flip them over. Oftentimes, they’ll flip themselves. When both sides are light brown, remove them from the oil and drain. Serve with your favorite catfish recipes, or with any fried fish recipes.