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Fried Catfish with Cheese Grits

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.

Fried catfish and cheese grits on a serving plate.

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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.

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.

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 :-)

🛒 Ingredient Notes


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.

👉 PRO 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.

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.
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.

🔀 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.

🍽️ Serving Suggestions


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


Fried fish will keep for several hours in a very low oven or at room temperature. And even though they’re best served fresh and piping hot, they 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.

🧾 More Recipes You’ll Like


Check all my fish and seafood recipes or pick from a few favorites below.

Lana Stuart.

More Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

📖 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 7 votes
Print It Rate It Save Text 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 healthcare 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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Recipe Rating




37 Comments

  1. Douglas Day says:

    5 stars
    Hi, Lana, I made this recipe along with the cheese grits and it was amazing. My wife loved every tasty bite. We just received you cookbook and can’t wait to try everything in the book. Thank you.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe and hope you love the cookbook as well!

  2. How much cheese to make cheese grits?

    1. The cheese grits recipe is linked twice in the post — at the very top and near the bottom. You’ll find all the measurements listed there.

  3. 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!

    1. It sounds delicious to me, Kim. I’d have that for lunch any day of the week!

  4. Christa Strickland says:

    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.

  5. When I went to print the recipe. I could bearly see the print button. Is there a way to make the “Print” darker. Thanks

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, Johna. I’ve passed it along to my developer and hope to have it updated soon.

  6. 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. Lana Stuart says:

      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.

    2. Hi 0at I read your question and I am from the south naturally fresh caught catfish are best but store-bought is ok. The best cat is channel or fresh water cat I prefer butter cat but all freshwater cat are good .I don’t recommend saltwater cat but some people like them. hope t
      his helps

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

  8. Looks great; fish and grits was always a favorite at our house

  9. 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!

  10. Sherri Osborn says:

    I have never tried catfish but this recipe really makes me want to! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      You’re welcome, Sherri! Re-reading this old post is making me want to have a fish fry!

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Dorothy Jensik says:

        I have a hushpuppy recipe from the 1940s that is the best. No store-bought mixes and no tiny bullets of the mix which so many restaurants serve – tasteless. It fries up puffed golden brown.

  12. Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen says:

    I grew up in my family’s catfish restaurant and I still love cooking up a big batch of it today. It’s a happy day when my boys bring in a big catfish to fry.

  13. Shut Up & Cook says:

    These look delicious!

    I’ve done Scallop ‘Po Boys before, but these look like they would hit the spot. YUM!

  14. Kay Heritage says:

    Living in Savannah, Fried catfish and cheese grits rule! Looks fantastic, Nanalana!

  15. OK, when you have a post like this you should be required to send out samples! I can just taste it!

  16. Dixie Caviar says:

    This looks amazing! I love fried catfish and cheesy grits. Now I’m hungry…

  17. 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.

  18. I love fried catfish thou i never fried it with cornmeal. such a great idea!

  19. 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

  20. Stacy's Snippets 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!!!

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. Lindsey @ Gingerbread Bagels says:

    I absolutely LOVE fried catfish and yours looks soooo good! Your pictures look wonderful too. YUM!!! I want some catfish now. :)

  25. 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.

  26. Lori @ RecipeGirl 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!