Growing up in the South, eating fried catfish is just part of my DNA. Back in the day, dining on catfish in a restaurant meant whole fried catfish on the bone, and we would think nothing of driving an hour to get our fill. These days, catfish is both farmed in aquaculture ponds and caught wild and brought to market.
From fresh to fishy, the quality of the flesh of catfish varies. Whenever possible, I seek out the wild-caught catfish, but if you shop carefully, store-bought, pond-raised catfish can be equally good. Look for white flesh (not gray), and if possible, buy the fillets with the skin removed.
Here in Louisiana, there is a shrine to catfish. South of Hammond, before I-55 ends at I-10 outside of New Orleans, there is a barren stretch of roadway that aside from an errant nutria, not much crosses your path. But just down the road along Lake Maurepas in Manchac, Louisiana is Middendorf’s, the sacred shrine to the often-maligned scavenging bottom-feeder.
While the name sounds more German than Cajun, make no mistake, they know how to do catfish. Whole fried bone-in catfish, catfish po’boy, broiled and stuffed catfish are all on the menu, but the specialty that built this house is the simplest execution of all–thin-cut fried catfish.
It’s hard to figure out why it’s so good, but it just is. Sweet white catfish fillets are cut into uniform strips, seasoned and fried to perfection. While there is just enough moist fish to bite into, there is an equally satisfying crunch that totally redefines the experience of eating catfish. With a side of slaw, a touch of tartar sauce, and an ice-cold beer, this just might become your favorite fish dish of all time.
With much trial and error, I think I finally nailed this recipe. The keys are simple: 1) buy quality fish, 2) with a sharp boning knife, slice it thin, 3) batter it lightly, 4) use fresh oil cranked up to 375ºF, 5) fry it fast in small batches, 6) drain on a wire rack, and 7) serve it immediately while it’s hot. Follow my lead, and you’re on your way to redefining the art of fried catfish.
- 4 pounds catfish fillets
- Oil, for frying, such as vegetable, peanut, or canola
- 3 cups yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 large lemon, cut into wedges
- Wash and inspect the catfish fillets removing any imperfections. Lay a fillet on a raised cutting board. Using a razor sharp, thin-blade boning knife, start at the tail end of the fillet and move the knife along the middle slicing the fish into a long thin strip. If there is skin attached, slice the meat just above it and discard the skin. Continue until all the fillets are thinly sliced.
- Add the oil to a deep fryer or large pot to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Heat to 375ºF as recorded on a fry thermometer.
- In a large metal mixing bowl, add the cornmeal, flour, and seasoning, and combine. Add a batch of the fish fillets and toss to coat evenly; shake off any excess coating. Add the fish to the hot oil and fry until golden brown; remove to a wire rack over paper towels, and salt immediately. Continue frying quickly in batches until all are fried golden brown delicious (be careful not to overcook).
- Garnish with lemon wedges, and serve immediately on a platter with shoestring French fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce.
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