Recipes » Main Dish Recipes » Fish and Seafood » Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits

Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits

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5 from 5 votes
You’ll find Fried Catfish and Cheese Grits at the center of any southern fish fry. It's one of the foundations of southern comfort food!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Fried catfish and cheese grits on a serving plate.

One of the foundations of southern comfort food is the classic recipe for Fried Catfish and Cheese Grits. You’ll find these tender, crispy, and golden brown fried fish fillets at the center of any southern fish fry.

There’s something about Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits that brings back an amazingly nostalgic feeling for me. Some of my fondest young memories involve cornmeal coated fried catfish fillets cooked by friends and family.

Fried catfish and cheese grits on a serving plate.

Some of the most fun get-togethers we had while growing up in south Georgia involved friends and neighbors getting together for a good old-fashioned fish fry. Most fish fries back in those days 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 to come over for a fish fry.

A Good Old Southern Fish Fry

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 make a trip to one of the local fish camps. A “fish camp” is a locally owned restaurant where loads of delicious fish, with accompanying side dishes, are cooked and served.

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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 early ’70s, there were probably six tables each with six straight-backed wooden chairs around them – the kind that made that screeching noise when you pulled them across the concrete floor…you know what I mean. No tablecloths, of course, and a roll of paper towels on each table. Like I said, not fancy.

But they served the BEST fried catfish south of Macon. It’s been at least 50 years since I’ve eaten there with my family and I still remember it like it was last night!

No Fish Camp Nearby? Make Your Own!

A while ago I decided it was high time for some home fried catfish. I sometimes order it at a local seafood place, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cooked any myself.

And, since no one in our house is a fisherman, 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 :-)

About the Ingredients

All ingredients used for making fried catfish.

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  • Catfish Fillets (If you don’t have access to fresh catfish, frozen is fine! Just remember to allow time to thaw – either overnight in the fridge or under slowly running cold water in a colander.)
  • Milk or Buttermilk (Use either to soak the catfish before dredging and frying. Catfish are bottom feeders which can cause them to have a somewhat “muddy” taste. A little soak will remove that.)
  • Fine White Cornmeal (Unlike many fried foods where flour is used for the coating, catfish are breaded with finely ground cornmeal. If you can’t source this product, you could try combining medium cornmeal and flour. You’ll need plain cornmeal, not cornmeal mix or cornbread mix for this recipe.)
  • Salt (of course)
  • Oil (You’ll need a high-temperature oil for frying. I always recommend peanut oil for deep frying. You can also use grapeseed or canola.)

It was really difficult for me to write measurements for this recipe since I’d 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 some if you think you should.

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

How to Fry Catfish

Prepare the Fish

  1. Rinse the catfish fillets under cold water and place them in a shallow baking dish or pan. Add enough milk to cover the fillets.
  2. Cover the dish and refrigerate for approximately one hour. Remove the fillets from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before you’re ready to cook.
Cast iron skillet with oil in the bottom.
STEP 3.
  1. Place a large cast iron frying pan over high heat and pour in the oil to a depth of approximately 1 1/4 inches. Allow the oil to come to frying temperature (350 degrees F) while preparing the fish.

TIP: You can use a thermometer to test the oil or do it the old-fashioned way and sprinkle in a little of the cornmeal. If it sizzles on contact with the oil, it’s ready to cook.

Must Have Cast Iron Skillet

This deep cast-iron skillet is perfect for all your deep frying needs. It’s pre-seasoned and can be used on the stovetop, in the oven, or on the grill.

Check it out >

Lodge 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet

Dredge the Fillets in Seasoned Cornmeal

Dredging catfish fillets in seasoned cornmeal.
STEPS 4-5.
  1. Combine the cornmeal and salt in a shallow pan.
  2. 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. Discard the used milk. Prepare all the fillets before you begin frying.

Fry Until Golden Brown

  1. Carefully lower the catfish fillets, one at a time, into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes) on the first side. Turn and 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 beautiful golden color.
  2. As you finish cooking each batch, remove them to a baking pan lined with paper towels and keep them warm in a 200 degree oven while you finish cooking.

Tips for Deep Frying

  • Don’t crowd the pan. Instead, fry in several batches if necessary.
  • After you lower a fillet into the hot oil, leave it alone. Do not fiddle with it at all for at least 3 minutes. Then gently turn it over to cook the second side.
  • Choose an oil that can withstand high temperatures. Peanut oil is my preference for both heat tolerance and taste. Other choices are grapeseed, sunflower, and canola oil.
  • I often do my frying outdoors on the side burner of a gas grill. It eliminates the lingering greasy smell in the house and any splashes and pops are much easier to clean up.
  • Cooking oil can be reused a few times. After the oil has completely cooled, strain it into a container and store it in a cool, dark place.
  • Don’t discard oil down your sink. Pour it into a container or soak it up with paper towels and dispose of it with your household trash.
  • It should go without saying, but — safety first! Never, for any reason, leave frying food unattended. Wear an apron and closed toe shoes.
  • If you should ever experience a grease fire, do not throw water on it. Turn off the heat immediately. Then cover the pan with a lid to smother the fire or pour liberally pour baking soda on it if you can do so without injuring yourself.
Custom Personalized Apron
Custom Personalized Apron

from: Etsy
Finished fried catfish fillets on a white tray.

Frying Fish Outdoors

Most fish fries in the south are actually held outdoors. It’s so much easier and faster when cooking for a crowd. If you’d like to take your fish fry to the backyard, you’ll want a propane gas fish fryer like the one I’ve linked below. Remember you’ll need more oil when using an outdoor fryer.

Must Have Fish Fryer

Take your fish fry outside with this 10-quart propane fryer.

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10 Quart Propane Fish Fryer

Recipe Variations

  • Spice up your fish fry by adding a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper to the cornmeal.
  • Season the cornmeal with a seafood seasoning such as Old Bay.
  • Make your fried fish into a sandwich! Slather a hoagie roll with some tartar sauce or comeback sauce, and add a fillet with finely shredded lettuce.
  • Cut the fish into nugget-sized pieces and create bite-sized treats.

What Goes with Fish and Grits?

For a traditional fish fry menu, serve your golden brown and crispy fried catfish with cheese grits, coleslaw, french fries, hush puppies, and in some areas swamp gravy. Don’t forget the traditional accompaniments of onion, lemon slices, and pickles – both sweet and dill – and, of course, sweet tea to drink!

A plate of onion slices, dill pickles, lemon wedges, and sweet pickles.

Add speaking of cheese grits…no southern fish fry would be complete without a pot full of creamy cheese grits. And, wouldn’t you know it, I just happen to have that recipe for you. Visit my original post on Cheese Grits for that recipe.

How to Store

It will keep for several hours in a very low oven or at room temperature. And even though it’s best served fresh and piping hot, it can be stored for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator. Reheat on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

Questions About Fried Catfish

What if I don’t have catfish? Can I substitute another kind of fish?

If you can’t find catfish, you can still have a southern fish fry! Tilapia, cod, and halibut are suitable alternatives.

What’s the best oil to use for frying catfish?

I always use peanut oil for frying fish. Peanut oil has a higher smoking point than other oils and doesn’t break down nearly as quickly. If you just can’t get peanut oil, you can use safflower, canola, corn, cottonseed, or sunflower oil.

Why do you soak catfish before cooking?

Wild caught catfish have a “muddy” flavor that some people find objectionable. Soaking in buttermilk helps remove that taste. Farm raised catfish tend to have a milder flavor and can be soaked in regular milk.

Have you tried this recipe? I’d love for you to give it a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card and/or in the comments section further down. You can always stay in touch on social media by following me on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest and Sign Up to Get my Newsletter, too!

Cotton Fishing Shirt With Ruler to Measure Your Catch
Cotton Fishing Shirt With Ruler to Measure Your Catch

from: Etsy

Recipe

Fried catfish and cheese grits on a serving plate.

Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits

You’ll find Fried Catfish and Cheese Grits at the center of any southern fish fry. It's one of the foundations of southern comfort food!
5 from 5 votes
Print It Rate It
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Time:: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 509kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds catfish fillets
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 cups finely ground white cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Peanut oil

Instructions

  • 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.
  • 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 inch. Allow oil to come to frying temperature while preparing the fish.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • When done, remove from the oil and keep warm in a 200 degree oven.

Notes

**Before starting the recipe, please read the post all the way through paying attention to the Tips for Deep Frying section.
Storing fried catfish: It will keep for several hours in a very low oven or at room temperature. And even though it’s best served fresh and piping hot, it can be stored for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator. Reheat on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.
About the nutrition calculation: The nutrition calculation on this recipe is probably way, way off. It’s next to impossible to accurately calculate the amount of cornmeal that adheres to a fillet or the amount of peanut oil absorbed when frying. Take these figures with a really big grain of salt!

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1 | Calories: 509kcal | Carbohydrates: 65g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 1262mg | Potassium: 1016mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 207IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 131mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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Fried catfish on a platter of cheese grits.

— This post was originally published on September 28, 2010. It has been updated with new photos and additional information.

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32 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I love your old south recipes and the stories. Born in 1960, I relive my growing up years in Tennessee through them! My father caught his catfish (and sometimes Bream) in the Tennessee River. Being river fish, he soaked them in lemon water overnight, then buttermilk the next day (to get the river taste out, he said). He fried them outdoors with hushpuppies (a trick I learned from him: once you make the hushpuppy batter, don’t stir it again—that makes them dense). And something you might not even dream could be delicious: the next day, put a piece of leftover, cold fried catfish on a soft hamburger bun with mayonnaise, a slice of sweet onion, salt and pepper. I turned my nose up when he suggested it, but I tried it and it was so darn good!

  2. Thank you for another trip down memory lane. “Baby” cats at Pace’s, yum. Jewell Pace was my great-aunt and it was always a treat to drive down to the lake from Iron City and eat with her. I think its time for a fish fry. Did anyone in your family ever fix Swamp Gravy at a fish fry? I actually checked your site a couple of weeks ago to see if you had a recipe listed but didn’t see one.

  3. Is there a difference in catfish? I had catfish when in the south and it was delicious! I’ve bought it in the store here and it was the most awful tasting thing I ever had. Tried twice and both times smelled like something died. I know there are different cats, which one is good to eat?

    1. Hi Pat – I don’t know of any difference in catfish. They can have a strong taste which is the reason for the milk soak in my recipe. I soak the fillets in milk for a while to take out a lot of that strong taste.