This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

Enjoy Fried Catfish at home with this recipe for restaurant-quality fried fish with delicious homemade freshness and a creamy, tangy tartar sauce.

My cast iron skillet fried catfish recipe with tartar sauce is so delightfully flaky and golden brown, you’ll just love the cornmeal coating crunch!

a platter of catfish with lemon wedges and a bowl of tartar sauce..

The summertime is perfect for fried fish and tangy fresh coleslaw with a side of tender and sweet hushpuppies! It really is a fantastic southern tradition.

Add some potato salad and a cold glass of refreshing blueberry mint tea and you have a summer party waiting to happen!

Top the meal off with a tray of mini Strawberry Icebox Cake Desserts or Chocolate Chess Pie and call it perfection!

Key ingredients & substitutions for Fried Catfish Fillets

  • Buttermilk — Using buttermilk with catfish is a must. It helps to remove any fishy smells or flavors. See my tips for making your own buttermilk or you can certainly purchase a container at the grocery store. Either way is just fine.
  • Hot sauce — I use Louisiana Hot Sauce, but you can use your favorite, like Frank’s RedHot or Tabasco.
  • Catfish fillets — Choose the fillets that have a good white flesh color, and make sure it is glossy, never slimy.
  • Cornmeal and flour — These two combine beautifully for your crispy fish coating. If you would like to make it gluten-free, just change the flour to GF flour. Cornmeal is usually gluten-free naturally, but check the package.
  • Seasonings — Rounding out this batter are the staples, salt and pepper, plus flavor from smoked paprika and garlic powder. Simply delish!
  • Peanut oil — Peanut oil has the best flavor for frying. You can also use canola or vegetable oil.
catfish, buttermilk, and hot sauce on a table.

Tartar sauce ingredients

  • Mayonnaise — For the creamy goodness of homemade tartar sauce use your favorite brand of mayo!
  • Shallot — Diced and ready to add-in. You could also use a sweet onion or chives.
  • Capers — Drain the capers and hold them to add to the sauce. You can omit these if you prefer.
  • Sweet pickle relish — Any brand will do, just use a slotted spoon when spooning it out of the jar so you do not get too much juice and water down your tartar.
  • White vinegar and Worcestershire — Together, these two combine to give the sauce the tart, salty flavor you have come to love about traditional tartar sauce.
stirring together ingredients for homemade tartar sauce.

How to make creamy and tangy tartar sauce

Prepare the tartar sauce before you begin frying the fish fillets. That way it can chill in the fridge and is ready when the fried fish is perfectly piping hot, crispy, and delicious.

Simply place the mayonnaise, diced shallots, drained capers, relish, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce in a small mixing bowl and whisk until it is all combined and creamy gorgeous.

You are sure to be amazed at how delightful homemade tartar sauce is — you may never purchase a pre-made jar again!

How to make Southern Fried Catfish

Always begin with preheating the oven and chopping any veggies for your recipe. That way the process will flow smoothly.

STEP 1 | Soaking the catfish

Once your fresh fish fillets are rinsed and patted dry, place them in a shallow bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce and pour on top, then soak the catfish fillets in the fridge while you chop the shallots and drain the capers.

tip

  • Don’t have buttermilk in the fridge? Use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of regular milk. Good news: You can use alternative kinds of milk like almond and soy to make buttermilk too!

STEP 2 | Prepare surfaces

Now you will want to get out a baking sheet and line it with parchment to keep the cornmeal coated fish ready while you cook the batches of flaky goodness.

On another sheet, place the wire rack to drain the grease before removing and transferring it to the oven.

spice mixture for dredging catfish.

STEP 3 | Coat the fresh fish

In another shallow dish, combine the flours and seasonings. Then you are ready to make your assembly line to coat the fish in the seasoned cornmeal crust. It can get messy, but I think this is the fun part.

Line up your dishes — plate of fish, buttermilk dish, cornmeal flour dish, then baking sheet with parchment.

Dip each filet into the buttermilk, then the cornmeal mixture. Be sure to coat both sides well and allow them to rest on the parchment-lined baking sheet.

tip

  • Turn the heat up. Add some spice to your batter or your tartar with cayenne pepper to taste.

STEP 4 | Prepare the oil

You are ready to get the oil nice and hot. I highly suggest an oil/candy thermometer for getting the temperature of the oil just right. It should be an even 350 degrees. Using a thermometer ensures that perfectly golden-brown coating and no soggy fish!

If you have a deep fryer, you can use that too. It is perfect for catfish nuggets! I love my Presto FryDaddy Electric Deep Fryer.

breaded catfish ready to fry; catfish draining on a wire rack.

STEP 5 | Frying the catfish

The two most important things to know about frying fish are to get the temperature just right and never overcrowd the pan. My best advice is to stay right there and time each side watching so that the oil does not become too hot or “dirty”.

tips

  • The oil temperature is critical when frying your crispy fillets. If it is too cool, the fish will be soggy. If the oil is smoking, it will be too hot. So, try to keep the oil at a steady 325-350 degrees.
  • Use this trick for testing the oil temperature. Sprinkle a bit of cornmeal in the pan. If it sizzles right away, it is ready! If it is smoking, you will want to cool it down a bit.
  • Using a cast iron skillet makes the best-fried fish in my opinion. But you can use a Dutch oven or a tall stockpot. Then you have the added benefit of the splatter staying in the pan! Less clean-up!

a platter of fried catfish on a stone platter with a bowl of tartar sauce, lemon wedges, and parsley.

STEP 6 | Keep warm & serve

As you fry each fillet, move it over to the wire rack to drain. Keep the flaky golden fish warm in the oven while you cook each batch to perfection.

Now you are ready to garnish the plate and serve! Just wait until your fork breaks into the first bite — I can hear the crunch now!

fried catfish on a plate drizzled with tartar sauce.

How to make fried catfish crispy

Keeping that fried fish crispy is precisely why you place the cooked fish pieces on the wire rack in the oven. That way it stays crunchy and hot while you are preparing all the pieces. Just be sure not to cover the fish with foil or it will get soggy.

Frequently asked questions

Can I start with frozen catfish?

Sure, you can start with frozen fish. Thaw your frozen fish by rinsing it in a colander under cold water (hot water would cook the fish), or in the refrigerator overnight.

What are the best oils to fry fish in?

Use a high-heat oil like peanut oil, canola, or vegetable oil. (I remember my grandmother using shortening!) Oils like olive oil and butter burn too quickly.

Why does my cornmeal coating fall off?

One of the qualities of a good fry cook is patience! While each piece is cooking, do not be tempted to mess with it. About three minutes should be good per side. If you flip the catfish too soon, the coating will stick to the bottom of the pan and peel right off.

Then, when the three minutes are up, you can gently nudge the fillet with your tongs or fish turner. If it releases easily, you are ready to turn it over for the next 3 minutes.

a partially eaten piece of fried catfish on a plate.

Serving suggestions

There are several ways you can change this fried catfish recipe up a bit to vary your menu. Here are a few suggestions for serving this crispy good southern meal.

  • Golden nuggets — Cut the fillets up into bite-sized nuggets and fry to a golden brown. It is a fun alternative to dip into your homemade tartar sauce or even a fresh batch of cocktail sauce!
  • Po’boy style That is right, you can serve the golden nuggets or the fillets in a hoagie bun with tangy tartar sauce and lettuce for a delicious sandwich.

Then you can always serve it right on the plate garnished with the tartar sauce, a parsley sprig, and a wedge of fresh lemon.

Dipping sauces are fun and bring the flavors to your plate altogether! Try any of the following alternatives or additions to your tartar sauce and catfish.

Please share!

Your shares are how this site grows and I appreciate each one. Do you know someone who would enjoy this recipe? I’d love it if you would share it on Facebook or on your favorite Pinterest board!

a platter of fried catfish with lemon wedges.

Fried Catfish with Tartar Sauce

My cast iron skillet fried catfish recipe with tartar sauce is so delightfully flaky and golden brown, you’ll just love the cornmeal coating crunch!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4 servings
Calories 1290 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 4 catfish fillets
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup vegetable or peanut oil for frying

Tartar Sauce

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon diced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons capers drained
  • 2 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Instructions
 

  • Stir the buttermilk and hot sauce together in a shallow dish. Pat the catfish dry with paper towels, then submerge in the buttermilk mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 30 – 60 minutes.
  • When cooking in batches, preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper and place a wire rack on another baking sheet.
  • In another shallow dish, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. One at a time, remove the catfish fillets from the buttermilk mixture allowing the excess to drain off. Dredge each fillet in the cornmeal mixture being sure to coat all sides. Lay the fillets on the parchment lined baking sheet and let rest for about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, pour enough of the oil into a deep skillet to reach 1/2 inch depth. Heat the oil over medium high heat until it shimmers, or reaches 350 degrees.
  • Fry 2 or 3 fillets at a time, being sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook on the first side for 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Carefully flip and cook another 3 to 5 minutes on the other side.
  • Transfer the catfish to the baking sheet with the wire rack and keep warm in the oven until all the fillets are cooked. Serve immediately with tartar sauce.

Tartar Sauce

  • Add the mayonnaise, shallot, capers, relish, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce to a small bowl and whisk until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes

  • Don’t have buttermilk in the fridge? Use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of regular milk. 
  • The oil temperature is critical when frying your crispy fillets. If it is too cool, the fish will be soggy. If the oil is smoking, it will be too hot. So, try to keep the oil at a steady 325-350 degrees.
  • You can test the oil temperature by sprinkling a bit of cornmeal in the pan. If it sizzles right away, it is ready! If it is smoking, you may want to cool it down a bit.
  • Using a cast-iron skillet makes the best-fried fish in my opinion. But you can use a Dutch oven or a tall stockpot. 
  • Add some spice to your batter or your tartar with a dash of cayenne pepper.

Nutrition

Calories: 1290kcalCarbohydrates: 31gProtein: 152gFat: 58gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 27gMonounsaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 540mgSodium: 1141mgPotassium: 3346mgFiber: 3gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 700IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 139mgIron: 4mg
Keyword buttermilk, catfish, fish, pan fried, Southern
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was.
sheila thigpen in her kitchen

About Sheila Thigpen

Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer

Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.