Farm-raised catfish is a mild-flavored non-oily freshwater whitefish that doesn’t have any scales. The skin is more like that of an eel, being thick and slippery. Although you could grill, bake, or steam catfish, I believe the best way to cook catfish is to season the fillets, dredge in cornmeal and flour, and then pan fry them.
Sometimes catfish as well as other freshwater fish such as tilapia that are not farm-raised can have a musty, earth-like taste and smell due to the large amounts of algae they may swim in. The algae give off chemicals called geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol when they die which then get into the meat of the fish. The human nose is incredibly sensitive to these chemicals. Most recipes for freshwater fish either call for the use of buttermilk or citrus as a marinade because an acidic liquid will break down these off putting chemicals down.
Farm-raised catfish live in a very controlled environment where algae blooms are prevented. This means that we don’t have to worry about any off flavors or smells in our fresh catfish like we would if they were caught in the wild.
For this recipe we marinate the farm-raised catfish fillets in lemon juice for ten minutes to enhance flavor. For other catfish recipes you may see that they call for marinating the catfish fillets in buttermilk for one hour.
Pan fried catfish is a staple of any good southern / soul food type restaurant. One of the most popular side dishes for pan fried catfish are hushpuppies / corn dodgers, which are balls of fried cornmeal batter.
- 4, 6 ounce catfish fillets - U.S. farm raised
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons parsley - minced
- 2 tablespoons garlic - minced
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- fresh parsley - garnish
- lemon - wedges for garnish
- 1 tablespoon creole seasoning - like Emeril's Essence, or make your own (see below)
If you don't have a creole seasoning on hand, you can make your own batch by mixing the following ingredients together:
- 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Note: You're not using all that on the fish! You will only be using a tablespoon of the mix, so store the rest away in a jar.
Rinse the catfish fillets under cool running water and then pat them dry using paper towels. A dry fish will hold onto the spices and marinate better. Put the catfish fillets in a couple of long containers or baking dishes. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of creole seasoning evenly over one side of each of the catfish fillets. If you find that the much of the flesh of a fish isn't covered feel free to use more seasoning.
Add the lemon juice, garlic and parsley evenly over the fillets. Move the catfish fillets around, and flip them so that the catfish is evenly coated. Note: The lemon juice will really brighten up the taste of the catfish and remove any musty smell or taste. If you normally don't add a squeeze of lemon to your freshwater fish when eating at seafood restaurants, I would suggest using a little more than half of the amount listed above. You can always squeeze more lemon on after the catfish has been cooked!
Let the fish marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.
While the catfish is marinating, put the cornmeal, flour, and salt into a dish and mix until combined.
Once the catfish has finished marinating, dredge each catfish fillet into the cornmeal mixture. Flip each fillet around to evenly coat it and then gently shake off any excess. If any areas of the fish don't seem to be picking up any coating, use a spoon to spoon some of the cornmeal mixture over those parts of the catfish. Place the coated catfish onto a dish.
Get out two clean plates and place two paper towels down onto each plate. Keep these plates close by. This is what we will put the fried catfish on absorb and excess oil.
Add your oil to a large pan or skillet over medium-high heat. You can put a pinch of the cornmeal mixture into the oil to test when the oil is ready. Once the cornmeal starts to sizzle quickly, go ahead and gently place two catfish fillets into the oil. Do this by placing one end of the fish down and then the other end down gently away from you so oil doesn't splash you.
You will pan fry the catfish for 3-4 minutes per side. I flipped mine every three minutes and forty-five seconds. Flip using a fork in one hand and a slotted spoon or spatula in the other.
Here is a photograph of the catfish after I flipped them.
If you have an instant-read thermometer, you can tell when the fish is done by sticking the probe into the thickest part of the fish. If it reads above 145º Fahrenheit it is fully cooked.
Once the catfish is done frying, place the two fried fillets on one of the plates with the paper towels. Place two additional paper towels on top of the cat fish and press down gently with a fork to absorb any excess oil.
Pan fry the remaining catfish fillets repeating the steps above.
Place the fried catfish on a plate and sprinkle some fresh parsley over it. Cut the lemon into wedges and add one or two to each plate. Serve with a side of hushpuppies.
Now that you have learned how to make pan fried catfish, please be sure to view these other seafood recipes.
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