March 7, 2012

Pan-Fried Catfish – A Louisiana Lenten Tradition

Pan-Fried Catfish – A Louisiana Lenten Tradition

I’ve been banned.

I’m not allowed to deep-fry anything. At least not in my kitchen. Maybe in your kitchen I would be able to. Or in a restaurant kitchen. But I have been banned from deep-frying anything in my own kitchen.


Not only is it too messy, but I also don’t do it very well. Frying is tricky business, especially with something as delicate as fish. It’s so easy to overdo it and burn the fish. Believe it or not, it’s also very easy to undercook the fish. But, usually, it’s the second or third batch that’s undercooked.

There is an art to frying.

Every time you add fish to the oil the temperature of the oil drops. One trick to keep the second, third, (or more!) batches from coming out undercooked is to pause between batches. Use a thermometer… and keep an eye on it. As soon as that oil gets back to 350, add more fish. Another trick is to not overcrowd the pan. The more fish you add at once, the lower the temp of the oil drops. And the longer it takes the fish to cook.

There’s nothing worse than greasy, undercooked fish.

That’s why I often prefer to pan-fry instead of deep-fry. You have more control over the temperature. I think that pan-fried catfish is–generally speaking–inferior to deep-fried… IF the deep-fried is done right. So, in the absence of a bona-fide expert fryer, I tend to opt for the safety of pan-frying.

And here’s how I do it….


  • Olive Oil (NOT extra-virgin)
  • 4 medium catfish filets
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1 cup of yellow cornmeal
  • 3 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 to 1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • Lemon wedges


  1. Rinse the filets under cold water. Dry well with paper towels.
  2. In a large dish (or bowl) place the filets and cover with milk.
  3. In another large dish (or bowl) mix the cornmeal, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  4. Take one filet at a time from the milk and “dredge” in the cornmeal mixture (coat it evenly on both sides). Place the filets on a platter to dry, and allow them to dry for at least five minutes.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet (I prefer to use my cast-iron frying pan) on medium-high heat. Add the filets to the pan (I can fit two filets at a time in my pan) and cook for 5 to 7 minutes on each side. Fry until they are golden brown.
  6. Remove filets from pan and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. After draining, place the filets on another (oven-safe!) plate lined with paper towels, and place in the oven pre-heated just enough to keep the filets warm while you cook the remaining filets.
  7. Fry the remaining two filets.
  8. Serve with lemon wedges.

A few tips…

I just gave you a recipe for the cornmeal mixture. But, here in Louisiana, if you are in a hurry, there are several companies that produce excellent “fish fry” already made. Louisiana Fish Fry is probably our favorite.

If you don’t like the taste of firm freshwater fish (like catfish or tilapia), then you might try an hour-long bath in buttermilk. No, not for you. For the fish. It does wonders in taking away that “fishy” taste.

There is so much that can be done with fried catfish. You can eat it hot… just like it is. Or you can make yourself one of the greatest treats this side of heaven: a catfish po-boy. If you do that, just make sure that you use REAL po-boy bread, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a dash or two of Tabasco or Crystal. Oh, and don’t forget the ketchup!

How do you like your catfish? Let me know in the comments below!

***Image courtesy of jimmysmith on***