Steak lovers don’t generally worry about steak tasting too “beefy,” and veggie enthusiasts are usually not concerned about their food tasting too “carroty” or too “squashy.” But even the most ardent fish fanatics consider how they can keep flaky fillets from tasting too “fishy.” The popularity of catfish owes to its mild flavor. With proper techniques and food safety precautions, home cooks should have no trouble maintaining catfish's subtle flavor or even muting it. Robust seasonings can compete with catfish’s natural flavor to temper the fishy taste and ultimately enliven the dish altogether.
Things You'll Need
- Paper towels
- Seasoning, to taste
- Cast-iron or heavy-duty skillet
- Cooking oil
- Deep-fat thermometer
- Yellow cornmeal
- All-purpose flour
- Baking sheet
- Lemon, optional
- Tartar sauce, optional
- Hot sauce, optional
Rinse the catfish fillets in cold running water then pat them dry with paper towels.
Season the catfish to taste. Oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, dry mustard and onion powder complement fried catfish well. Pat the seasoning onto the fillets to coat them adequately. Seasoning the fish directly rather than the cornmeal will improve the flavor.
Fill a cast-iron or heavy-duty skillet 2 inches deep with cooking oil. Consider using peanut oil, which has a high smoke point. Use a deep-fat thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil while cooking. Heat the oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dredge the seasoned catfish in a dry mixture that is equal parts yellow cornmeal and all-purpose flour. Shake off the excess.
Place the fillets in the skillet. Do not overcrowd the pan, which would prevent the fish from cooking evenly. Cook in batches of two or three fillets.
Fry the catfish until the undersides are golden brown, approximately 2 minutes. Turn the fillets gently with tongs. You should cook the fillets until the flesh is firm, white and opaque, according to the food safety guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Transfer the catfish onto a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain excess oil from the fish. Keep the baking sheet in a 250-degree oven to keep the cooked catfish warm while you fry the remaining fillets.
Bring the oil back up to 360 F before adding another batch of fish. The fish will cause the temperature to drop automatically, and the oil may remain slightly below 360 F while there is fish in the pan. Allow the temperature to rise back to 360 F before adding another batch of fish.
Serve the catfish with lemon, hot sauce or tartar sauce, if desired. Any of these condiments will help obscure the taste of the fish if you still do not find it mild enough.
Tips & Warnings
- After seasoning the fish, pour buttermilk into the baking dish, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the fish for 2 to 8 hours, if desired. The acidity in buttermilk will make the fish more tender. Use approximately 1/4 cup of buttermilk per catfish fillet.
- Place packaged frozen catfish in the coldest part of your refrigerator and let it thaw overnight, if needed. Thawing the fish slowly in a cool environment will maintain its mild, fresh taste.
- Avoid packages of frozen catfish that are found above the frost zone in the grocer’s freezer case and packages that contain excessive ice crystals, as cautioned by the USDA. Not only do these sub-par conditions increase the possibility that the catfish will taste too “fishy,” they serve as warning signs that the fish could be contaminated or spoiled due to improper storage.
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