This post was originally published on September 28, 2010. It has been updated and reposted for readers’ enjoyment.
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. You just can’t beat Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits!
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 have 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.
A while ago 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 :-)
It was really difficult for me to write 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.
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.
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 the 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.
I often do my frying outdoors on the side burner of BeeBop’s gas grill. It eliminates 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. Instead, fry 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.
Remove the cooked fillets to a baking pan lined with parchment paper and keep them warm in a 200 degree oven while 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.
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 for that recipe.
Other recipes for fried catfish that you might enjoy:
- Jack’s Fried Catfish on MyRecipes.com
- Paula Deen’s recipe for Southern Fried Catfish from the Food Network
- Fried Catfish from Hoppin’ John’s Restaurants
- Classic Fried Catfish from Southern Living
- Southern Fried Catfish from Deep South Dish