Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits

You might not think that growing up as I did in a tiny southern town would afford one many social gathering opportunties. Oh, how wrong you’d be! We used every possible opportunity to get together with family, friends and neighbors. We had teas and showers, club meetings of all kinds, even church services became a social get-together. And no social gathering was complete without food of some kind. There were very specific foods for each type of occasion. Teas and showers called for little finger sandwiches, cheese straws and petit fours. Club meetings might mean dips and chips with a selection of soft drinks. But one of the most fun gatherings was a bunch of friends and neighbors getting together for a good old-fashioned fish fry. Most south Georgia fish fries back in my day were impromptu events prompted by a lucky fisherman having a good day on the water. The catch in our area was typically either bream or catfish. After the day’s catch was cleaned, the call would go out to friends that a fish fry was being prepared.

Now, if you weren’t the fishing type or you just had a craving for some fish in between one of those occasions, you could always having that craving satisfied at one of the local fish camps. I remember Mama and Daddy loading up me and my sisters in the station wagon and heading for Pace’s Fish Camp. Pace’s, like every other fish camp around there, was not a fancy eating establishment. In fact, it was the complete opposite of fancy. As I recall it from the late 60’s, there were probably six tables each with six straight-backed wooden chairs around each – the kind that made that screeching noise when you pulled them across the floor…you know what I mean. No tablecloths, of course, and a roll of paper towels on each table. Like I said, not fancy.

Last weekend I decided it was high time for some fried catfish. I sometimes have some at a local seafood place when I go home to visit my Mama, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cooked any myself. And, since neither BeeBop nor I are fishermen, I just trusted my local grocery store to provide the fillets. Even though it had been years since I cooked fried catfish myself, I found that I hadn’t forgotten how :-)

1 pound catfish fillets
2 cups milk
3 cups fine ground white cornmeal
2 tsp. salt
Peanut oil

It was really difficult to give measurements for this recipe since I’ve never measured any of the ingredients. Like many home cooks, I just do what “looks right.” So use the measures as a guideline and add more or take away if you think you need to.

Catfish Fillets

Rinse the catfish fillets under cold water and place them in a shallow baking dish or pan. Add enough milk to cover fillets. Cover the dish and refrigerate for approximately one hour. Remove the fillets from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before ready to cook.

Place a large cast iron frying pan over high heat and pour in peanut oil to a depth of approximately 1 1/4 inch. Allow the oil to come to frying temperature while preparing the fish.

Coating catfish fillets for frying

Combine the cornmeal and salt in a shallow pan. Some cooks like to add a bit of cayenne with the cornmeal. If you like that sort of thing, then go for it! Remove fillets from the milk letting most of the excess drip off. Place one fillet at a time into the cornmeal gently  turning the fillet several times until it’s coated well. Prepare all the fillets before you begin frying.

Catfish Frying

I chose to do my frying outdoors on the side burner of BeeBop’s gas grill. It eliminated the lingering fishy-greasy smell in the house and any splashes and pops were much easier to clean up. Carefully lower the fillets, one at a time, into the hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan frying in several batches if necessary. Turn the fillets when golden brown on one side. Cook on the second side until nicely browned as well. Return the fillets to the first side to cook for an additional minute or so if needed to fully develop a golden brown color.

Keep Fried Catfish Warm Until Serving

Remove the cooked fillets to a baking pan lined with parchment paper and keep them warm in a 200 degree oven when you finish cooking.

For a traditional fish fry menu, serve your golden brown and crispy fried catfish with cheese grits, coleslaw, french fries and hush puppies. And don’t forget the traditional accompaniments of onion, lemon slices and pickles – both sweet and dill.

Fried catfish accompaniments

Add speaking of cheese grits…no southern fish fry would be complete without a pot full of creamy, cheesy grits. And, wouldn’t you know it, I just happen to have a recipe for you. It was one of the first recipes I ever posted here on the blog and it’s still a good one! Visit my original post on Cheese Grits.

Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Golden brown fried catfish fillets
Ingredients
  • 1 pound catfish fillets
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 cups fine ground white cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Peanut oil
Instructions
  1. Rinse catfish fillets under cold water and place in a shallow baking dish or pan. Add milk to cover fillets. Cover the dish and refrigerate for approximately one hour.
  2. Remove the fillets from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before ready to cook.
  3. Place a large cast iron frying pan over high heat and pour in peanut oil to a depth of approximately 1 inch. Allow oil to come to frying temperature while preparing the fish.
  4. Combine the cornmeal and salt in a shallow pan. Remove fillets from milk letting most of the excess drip off. Place one fillet at a time into the cornmeal and turn it several times to coat well. Prepare all the fillets before you begin frying.
  5. Carefully lower the fillets, one at a time, into the hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan frying in several batches if necessary. Turn the fillets when golden brown on one side. Cook on the second side until nicely browned as well. Return the fillets to the first side to cook for an additional minute or two if needed to fully develop a golden brown color.
  6. Serve with cheese grits, coleslaw, french fries and hush puppies.
Notes
It was really difficult to give measurements for this recipe since I’ve never measured any of the ingredients. Like many home cooks, I just do what “looks right.” So use the measures as a guideline and add more or take away if you think you need to.

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Comments

  1. says

    I’ve never had catfish- would love to try yours! Still on the fence w/ grits though. I’ve had a couple of icky versions and a couple of versions that were so tainted w/ cream and cheese that I’m not sure you could even taste any of the grits lol!

  2. says

    Lori – I think the most important thing about grits is to make sure you get a brand processed in the deep South. I know Quaker is probably the most widely distributed and they’re a great company, but they just don’t have those southern roots :-) A regional southern brand like Jim Dandy is much the best. And, you’re right, grits don’t really need loads of cream. As a matter of fact, I don’t use cream in mine at all. A reasonable amount of butter, salt and pepper is really all that’s needed. That lets the taste of the grits shine through. They’re just ground corn, you know, very similar to polenta if you think about it.

  3. says

    I first had catfish when I lived in KY in the late 70’s and I haven’t had it since. It’s time to make it again don’t you think?

    I never heard of the term “Fish Camp” it sounds like a diner that only serves fish. I think I would’ve loved that.

    And cooking on the side burner….what an idea. I’m glad you think outside the box because I sure never do. Thanks.

  4. says

    I grew up in a small, rural Georgia town also and catfish was a staple — always easy to catch either in the creek or the pond. I don’t use milk but otherwise recipes are very similar. Thanks for sharing!

  5. says

    Ooooh, this really resonates, brings longings of home, and sounds delicious. We never had grits at our fish fries (but sure why not) we always had french fries, coleslaw, and hushpuppies. And yes to the pickles, onions, and lemons. Cheese grits and catfish sounds mighty good.

  6. says

    Hi Lana…just wanted to let you know that I featured your 8 ball zucchini post on my blog today for my Tasty Tuesday post! I made it last Thursday and have been craving, drooling, dreaming about it ever since! Good thing I have a few more 8 balls that are ready to pick!!!

  7. says

    oh my Lana, should have called me and I would’ve come running.. nothing better than fish n grits – your catfish is perfect, fried crispy like I like it

  8. says

    I haven’t made catfish in a little while now I’m craving it. We ate so much of it when I was a kid. We fished at least once a week, and if we didn’t have money for meat, out to the pond, to catch dinner. I use to complain to my Grandma and she would say at least your daddy doesn’t make you eat squirrel, rabbit and possum the rest of the days of the week. My how food stamps have changed the lifestyle and culture of the poor.

  9. Angie says

    This looks amazing! I need directions to your house the next time you fry up some catfish! It is defanitly a Southern Georgia staple. My Grandma lives in South Georgia and during the summers when I would visit, we would go to a wonderful lil place in the middle of no where that sounds EXACTLY like Pace’s. We went for old time sake last summer and it is nothing like it was as a kid :( Total bummer! Cant wait to fry some catfish up now.

    • says

      Angie – I don’t think I’ve fried any catfish since I wrote this post. It’s really past time for a fish supper around here! Next time I’ll photograph the hush puppies and do a post on them.

  10. SteveJ says

    I fell in love at first bite with fried catfish on a visit to Beale St. in Memphis. :) Farmed catfish are also an excellent sustainable fish, so you can feel good about not contributing to the depletion of our natural resources. Be sure you are buying U.S. farmed fish though, the ones from Asia can have some nasty chemicals in them. In Virginia they are readily available year round.
    Your recipe looks great and much easier than my usual. Thanks!

  11. don says

    living in Texas I grew up on catfish. Onlywe used whole fish cleaned well and dipped in buttermilk. makes the cornmealstick better

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