While catfish is found in waters all over the globe, it is certainly a huge deal here in the south. Mississippi is known for its fried catfish and Belzoni, Mississippi is touted as being the Catfish Capital of the World! Needless to say, I love catfish. I’ve had some pretty good fried catfish in various restaurants, but nothing beats my dad’s recipe… which I suppose is partly my paternal grandparents recipe… and they were Arkansans.
So, I have two recipes for this post. My dad’s famous fried catfish, along with how to have a proper fish fry, and a recipe I found from the June 2011 issue of Cooking Light magazine. I was a huge fan of that one, though I can’t say the same for the rest of my family.
Mr. Paul’s World’s Best Fried Catfish
Oh look, I gave it a kooky kitschy name. Well, but my dad is Paul and people call him Mr. Paul and it is the best fried catfish I have ever eaten. And I have eaten A LOT of fried catfish. Fresh caught is always best, though preparing it is no easy or pleasant task, plus I realize that some people aren’t river fishers. Frozen is perfectly acceptable, though just be warned that you might end up with a wangy bit in with all the great bits, as that’s how it goes with frozen fillets.
This recipe is also an approximation, as it depends on how much fish you’re frying up. And dad’s just been making it so long that he doesn’t need a recipe, though the rest of us certainly do.
- 4 C yellow cornmeal
- 1 C flour
- Vegetable oil
- Garlic powder, Onion powder, salt, and pepper to taste.
Use a paper towel to dry fillets and squish out excess water. Batter fillets in corneal mix and deep fry in vegetable oil. When the fish floats, it’s done. Don’t over cook, but you can cook to desired crust colour for a minute more. Drain on baking sheet with a brown paper grocery sack laid on top.
- Apparently only domestic catfish floats when it is finished cooking. Foreign varieties don’t necessarily float when they are finished cooking, so you’ll have to test for doneness on those.
- The draining technique is what my grandparents and my dad have always done. If you can manage it, try to obtain some whether as extra from your local store or actually putting your groceries in them to carry home. It is not advisable to drain on paper towels as they will stick and you’ll have bits of paper towel all over your fish.
- You can cut fillets into smaller, bite sized pieces (nuggest) before dredging through cornmeal and frying.
- Although you can use tartar sauce or ketchup, I find this fish to be good all on it’s own. It’s also good cold the next day. I’ve not met another prepared fish who can boast that claim!
The Perfect Roberts’ Family Fish Fry:
- French fries. They can be fresh or frozen, but they must be fried.
- Coleslaw. You may purchase from your favourite place, or you can try this recipe for typical Southern Coleslaw. Or if you want fancy coleslaw you can follow the recipe for it in the next section.
- Hush puppies. You can buy them frozen, or you can try this recipe for typical Southern Hush Puppies. They are generally just cornmeal and onion, but if you feel you need fancy bits such as corn or peppers, you can adventure into that region. These must also be fried.
- Dill pickles. We prefer the mini gherkin, but you can use whole or spear, they just can’t be chips and they must be dill.
If you have never deep fried anything before, I would suggest that you read up on proper techniques as it can be extremely dangerous if you go about it blindly, so to speak. Frying out of doors is best, but one can fry inside on the stove. I’ll supply the general rules, but if this is new for you, please research further.
- Use a large, thick pot. Nothing too flimsy and one that will fit onto your biggest burner.
- Never overfill the pot with oil. Generally somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 full is good. Never to the 3/4th mark. Hot oil expands when food is put into it and more so if that food is frozen.
- Never overcrowd the pot. Put too much food in at once and the oil will expand a lot and will also not cook the food properly.
- Never fry on ultimate high heat. About a 7 is generally good. But you must attend to the heat and adjust it accordingly. Too hot and your food will burn within seconds. Too low and your food will soak up all of the oil and will come out soggy instead of crispy.
- It’s important to wait for the oil to heat up. Adding food too early causes it to soak up excessive oil. We generally test by putting our fingers in water and then slinging a few drops into the pot, if it bubbles and spurts rapidly, it’s ready. You can always test with a small portion of food if you think it’s time. If it sinks and there are no bubbles, then it’s not ready. If there are rapid bubbles and it pops back up from the bottom rather quickly, it’s ready. A friend of ours dusts her fingers in flour and drops a few sprinkles in the oil to check for readiness.
- Everything that you coat the food with will end up on the bottom. Try not to scrape the bottom of the pot too much or you’ll come up with burnt debris as well as your fried food. Also flour and cornmeal burn quickly if the oil is too hot, your foods will get dark before they are finished cooking and you’ll end up with lots of burnt bits in the bottom of the bottom and ruined oil.
Reusing things is a big deal in the south. Just about everyone has something that’s been previously used that they’ll continue to use for cooking. Oil for frying is no exception. If used properly (and you didn’t end up burning it on the first go around), oil has several uses left in it beyond the initial use.
- When you’re done frying, carefully remove oil from burner onto a cold burner to cool off. Put the lid on with a small gap. Once it’s cooled completely, it’s time to transfer it back into it’s original container.
- You might need two people to help with this. Have the original container in the sink. You’ll use a funnel and a small holed strainer. You need to place the strainer into the funnel and hold the funnel in the hole. Jammed down in their and science and magic will keep the oil from flowing freely back in to the jug. The strainer is to keep out the burnt bits and drippings.
- Yay! Now you can use that oil 3 – 4 more times.
- Also, never put oil (hot or cold) into your trash, trash compactor, or down your sink (even if you have a garbage disposal), it will clog everything up. It’s best to save some sort of mayonnaise jar or coffee can to dispose of any oil you do not wish to keep (unless you don’t want to keep the entire original jug, then just put it back in there and throw that in the trash).
- If you’ve made something with a lot of flour, you’ll notice about a half inch or inch thick layer on the bottom of the pot after you’ve drained the oil. This is excellent for making gravy with. But I’ll leave that for an entirely different post and link back here when I’ve completed that.
Open-Faced Blackened Catfish Sandwiches
- 1 3/4 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3/4 tsp ground red pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 (6 oz) catfish fillets
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1/3 C plain, fat-free Greek yoghurt
- 3 Tbs fresh lime juice
- 1 Tbs honey
- 2 C packaged cabbage-carrot coleslaw
- 1 C fresh cilantro, chopped
- 4 (1 oz) slices sourdough bread, toasted
Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of fish with paprika mix. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat*. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add fish; cook 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.
Combine yoghurt, juice, and honey in a medium bowl. Add cabbage and cilantro; toss well to coat. Top each toasted bread slice with about 1/2 C of slaw and 1 fillet. Top each fillet with remaining slaw.
- I stated before that no one in my family liked this meal. I thought it was absolute heaven. But I don’t like traditional coleslaw, whereas they do.
- I have made just the blackened catfish part before as well, so even if you didn’t want to do the whole coleslaw and toast bit, it’s still really good.
- *Cast-iron is my go to choice for cooking, but it is tricky. Once it’s heated up good and proper it retains that heat far longer than other skillets. It’s also really heavy. I found that high heat with the cast iron and the food is burnt and the skillet is smoking before the four minutes is up. I know the fish is supposed to be blackened, but it’s supposed to look like the above photo and not the same as the skillet. I suggest a lower heat than ultimate high. 6-8 adjusted accordingly, which is high, but the recipe should read med-high for that range. Blackens nicely during the 4 minutes per side without burning.
I always see recipes with varied measurement abbreviations. I always use the standard form, but if you are not familiar with that, it is as follows.
- C = cup(s)
- Tbs = tablespoon
- tsp = teaspoon
- oz = ounces