Fried Catfish and Homemade Tartar Sauce
I’ve been making fried catfish ever since I learned to cook, and I’m not really sure when that was exactly…let’s just say I’ve used this recipe a million times and it always turns out perfect!
The trickiest thing about frying catfish is the oil. It has to be hot enough, but not to the smoking point. Also, the type of oil used is important. Back when, 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 different oil, preferably olive, grapeseed or peanut.
For frying, olive oil is not an option because it has a lower smoke point and will go up in flames quickly. You want to use a vegetable, grapeseed or peanut oil–these have higher smoke points and will allow you to get the oil hot enough, but not too hot.
Cook the filets in batches because there’s not a home skillet big enough to cook more than two or three at a time. The first batch always turns out lighter than the others because the oil is new. 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 I do it anyway because I always have done it this way.
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, place the filets in the oven about 400ºF. I wouldn’t try it if I were you…just sayin’
Can I Substitute Anything for Mayonnaise in the Tartar Sauce?
No. Tartar sauce is a mayonnaise based sauce and that’s not a good question. You might try using some clarified butter with lemon in lieu of tartar sauce.
Catfish fried in a tasty cornmeal batter, served with homemade tartar sauce.
- 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
- 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
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
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.
You might want to serve your Fried Catfish with some homemade Killer Baked Beans!0