Southern Fried Catfish and Homemade Tartar Sauce
Southern Fried Catfish delicious and easy to make! This restaurant quality recipe won’t disappoint! Tender catfish filets, lightly breaded in a Southern seasoned cornmeal mix and fried to just the right temperature!
Three Tricks to Making Restaurant Quality Southern Fried Catfish
Frying fish isn’t hard, but requires a little practice and expertise. Here are three tips to help your catfish turn out superb!
1. Type of Oil: What Kind of Oil is Best for Fried Catfish?
- The type of oil used is important. Back in the day, everyone used Crisco® shortening to fry fish, chicken, and chicken fried steak. Now we know that shortening has those horribly dangerous trans fats, so we opt for a healthier oil, preferably grapeseed or peanut. Other oils that work well in high heat cooking are vegetable and corn oil.
- Olive oil is not recommended because it has a low smoke point. A low smoke point means the oil burns at a lower temperature. The oils mentioned above all have high smoke points, which makes them ideal for frying fish at home.
2. Temperature of Frying Oil for Fried Catfish
- Another tricky thing about frying catfish is the temperature of the frying oil. It has to be hot enough, but not quite to the smoking point, which varies by type of oil. Generally speaking, the oil should be about 360-370ºF.
- The best way to determine if the oil is ready for frying is to use a good meat thermometer.
- Another good way to determine if the oil is hot enough (or too hot) is to sprinkle a little cornmeal in the hot oil. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. If it doesn’t sizzle, raise the temperature and re-test.
3. Patience: How Long Does it Take to Fry Fish?
- Fry the catfish filets in batches, usually one or two filets at a time. Once the filet is placed in the hot oil DON’T TOUCH IT for at least 3 minutes. As tempting as it may be to turn it–don’t. Three minutes allows the bottom side of the filet to cook and become firm. Once the bottom is a light golden brown, flip the filet.
- After flipping the filet, let it cook for another 3 minutes… again, DON’T TOUCH IT.
- Once both sides are crisp, if you prefer a darker crust, then gently flip the filet until it is the desired color.
- Throughout the process, place cooked filets on a paper towel to drain, then place them in a 200ºF oven uncovered. (When filets are covered with foil, they get mushy and all your patience is in vain.)
- The first batch always turns out lighter than the others because the oil is fresh. If the darker filets bother you, start over with new oil for each batch
Isn’t Fried Food Bad For You?
Yes. But it’s all in moderation. If you consume fried foods on a daily basis, go ahead and write out your will; however, if it’s a “once in a while” occasion, go ahead and live life to the fullest!
Does Catfish Contain Mercury?
Almost all seafood contains mercury, however, catfish is relatively low on the mercury scale. Moderation is a key word for this recipe.
Why Do I Need to Soak the Catfish in Buttermilk?
Soaking fish in buttermilk is a method for minimizing the “fishy” smell. Catfish are bottom-feeders, meaning they swim on the bottom of the lake or reservoir floor. It is believed that soaking the filet in buttermilk reduces the “muddy” flavor…there’s a bit of controversy about this, but it is recommended for Southern Fried Catfish.
Can I Make Fried Catfish in Advance?
Yes, but it won’t be as good. Wrap the fried filets in foil and refrigerate them. When you’re ready to serve them, remove the foil and place the filets in the oven about 450ºF for about 15 minutes.
Can I Substitute Anything for Mayonnaise in the Tartar Sauce?
Traditional tartar sauce is mayonnaise based. If mayonnaise isn’t your thing, try using some clarified butter with lemon in lieu of tartar sauce.
Restaurant Style Fried Catfish
Catfish Coating Ingredients
- 4 filets catfish a little over a pound, total
- 1 - 1/2 cups oil vegetable, canola or peanut
- 2 cups cornmeal yellow
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (red pepper, ground)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Tartar Sauce Ingredients
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon sweet relish squeezed in a paper towel
- 1 tablespoon dill relish squeezed in a paper towel
- 1/2 teaspoon vinegar or lemon
- pinch of salt
Catfish Filet Preparation
- Pat filets with paper towel
- In a large baking dish, pour 1/2 cup buttermilk
- Place filets in buttermilk; coat each side then, lightly season filets with salt and pepper
- Refrigerate filets for about 15 minutes
- Meanwhile, make tartar sauce
- After the tartar sauce is made, coat and cook the fish
Tartar Sauce Preparation
- In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, dill and sweet relish, salt and vinegar; refrigerate until ready to serve
- In a large bowl, add cornmeal, salt, pepper and cayenne; stir with fork till blended
- Using a cast-iron, or heavy bottom skillet, pour oil into skillet and heat to medium;
- While oil is heating, take a filet directly from the buttermilk and place it in the cornmeal; pat the cornmeal on the filet; coat it all over, twice; repeat with remaining filets
- Check your skillet; the oil needs to be around 250ºF; you can sprinkle a few pieces of cornmeal in the oil to see if it sizzles; if it does sizzle, the oil is ready
- Cooking in batches of two filets, place them in the hot oil; DO NOT MOVE THE FILETS until they've cooked for 2 1/2 minutes on one side
- After 2 1/2 minutes, using tongs, turn the filets over and cook for an additional 3 minutes
- Remove filets from oil and place on a paper towel
- Repeat until all filets are cooked and drained
- Plate filets and serve with lemon and tartar sauce
- The trickiest thing about frying catfish is the oil. First, you need a heavy-duty skillet; I recommend a cast-iron.
- If your oil starts to smoke, turn the heat down and remove the skillet from the burner for a few minutes. After the heat has been reduced, put the skillet back on the burner. Keep an eye on the oil.
- Pour enough oil into the skillet so that it's about an inch full; the actual amount will depend upon the size of your skillet.
- Do not move the catfish filets for the first 2 1/2 minutes; if you do, the coating will fall apart. Just stand there and watch...and wait
- When flipping the filets, you can use tongs or a fork; I do not recommend using a spatula because it's too hard to get the filet on the spatula and flip it when the other filet is in the skillet--it's too crowded in that pan already!
- Your second batch of filets will be darker than the first; that's because they're being cooked in oil that's already been used. If this really bugs you, throw out the first batch of oil and start over.
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