Cormeal-Fried Catfish

My husband and I are deep in the throes of wedding hangover. Something happens when your sister gets married–the steady stream of strong emotions, the abundance of tears, the brief interactions with beloved family members you rarely get to see: we awoke Sunday morning feeling like we had been binge drinking for about 30 years straight.

As we wandered around the house with eyes feeling like raw red meat and heads feeling like bowls of mushy oatmeal, I realized I had been right: I didn’t have the fortitude to blog about anything remotely wedding-esque, and I was so grateful so pull this recipe from the line-up and toss it into the world while I avoid the 881 pictures currently loitering on my camera’s memory stick. And so I bring you . . . fish.

I’ve put off making catfish for a long time. I heard it was a bottom dweller? And eats trash at the bottom of the lake or ocean or sea or wherever it lives? And that just sounds gross. Plus, their whiskers look real nasty. I mean, what are they made out of? Not hair, surely? Probably some kind of disgusting probe-like thing.

Yikes—why am I talking about this before telling you to eat this fish?

Moving on. Catfish is cheap. I got mine for $2.29/pound, which beats the prices on salmon these days.

Are you afraid of cooking fish? I’ve heard some people are. Well, if you buy fillets or ask the fishmonger to fillet a whole fish for you, there are no bones—and for these babies, no skin either—so it’s not any grosser than raw chicken. Less gross, I would venture.

With a simple cornmeal coating, this isn’t a heavy battered dish—it’s light, crisp on the outside, delicate on the inside. Mmmmm.

Don’t overcook it! That’s a crime with fish, and gives them the texture of canned tuna—kind of stringy and dried out. If you can learn to cook your fish to just the right point, it will change your experience of seafood. See this post for scientific evidence.


(Serves 4)

1 whole catfish, filleted (or 2 large skinned fillets, halved crosswise)

4 generous pinches salt

4 generous pinches black pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 TBS Tabasco sauce

4 TBS spicy brown mustard

1 1/2 c cornmeal

4 TBS oil


1 whole lemon

Ask your fishmonger to fillet a whole catfish for you. Don’t know your fishmonger? Well, it’s time to make his acquaintance. He’s the dude behind the fish counter wielding the large knife and wearing the rubber apron. Or the dudette–let’s not be old-fashioned here. This should yield 2 very large fillets, which I halved crosswise to create 4 servings. I hadn’t yet halved them in the picture below, so you’ll just have to trust me. Sprinkle all sides of fillets with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Tabasco. Be generous with your seasonings, since these fillets are fairly thick.

Now, spread a thin layer of mustard (any kind is good) over both sides of the fillets.

Coat the fillets in cornmeal, and shake off the excess. You can do this in a large ziploc bag, or you can do what I did and simply pour the cornmeal over the cutting board and turn the fillets in it a few times until they’re covered.

Your pan may not be big enough for all 4 fillets, so heat 2 skillets with 2 TBS of oil in each. When heated, lay in the fillets. My pathetically small (8 inch) skillet could only fit one fillet at a time:

Thankfully my grandfather just bequeathed me (via Erica’s wedding) with the mother of all cast iron skillets, which had been collecting rust in his basement for years. It has a diameter of a whopping 14 inches, and after a few days of hefting it around I expect to see drastic changes in the girth of my musculature.

After about 45 seconds, turn the heat down to low and cover the skillets. Let the fish cook for about 4 minutes. Take the cover off and gently turn the fillets over using a sturdy spatula. When I used tongs to do this, my cornmeal coating fell off. Lesson learned: don’t be like me! Befriend your local spatula.

Cover the fillets again and cook for 6 minutes (still on low) or until just cooked through. These fillets will be firmer and meatier than tilapia or even salmon. As soon as they’re done, sprinkle with chives and squeeze fresh lemon juice over them–the lemon juice really makes the fish. Serve it with Spicy Garlic Sauce, and I guarantee you will have no regrets.

Conclusion: nothing about this delectable dish says “bottom feeder”. There is no heavy, fishy flavor–it has kind of a “blank slate” flavor like tilapia, but with a heartier texture. Conquer your fears and make it this weekend! Then, report back to me for a gold star.

Click here for printer-friendly version: Cornmeal-Fried Catfish

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6 Responses to Cormeal-Fried Catfish

  1. Kay Heritage says:

    LOVE catfish! Beautiful looking filets! Great looking recipe, Jenna. Must try. :)

  2. Mmmmm… this looks awesome!

  3. Steve Berg says:

    looks delicious and was delightfully funny. I love reading your blog. I feel like i told you that recently. ah well.

  4. Jen says:

    I almost wanted to try making this tonight, but decided that sleep and laundry were a little higher on the priority list. I can’t wait to see YOUR pics! I’m afraid mine aren’t looking terribly exciting.

  5. Howard Huffman says:

    Wendy made this last night and they were great!

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