Pretty much every young Appalachian man learns to catch, clean, and fry catfish in his youth. In fact, it was sort of a "rite of passage" for many of us. I have fried it right on the creekbank over my campfire within minutes of catching these delectable freshwater delicacies. This basic recipe has served me well for many years and I still love the great, but mild, flavor which is yielded by pan-frying catfish. Over the past 40 years, I've made a change or two in the recipe on which my elder fishing buddies of that era taught me, but the essential strength of this, or any other fried catfish recipe, is in the cornmeal coating. So, here is an Appalachian catfish recipe which I hope becomes a legacy in your own family -- good eating!
- 6 medium catfish fillets (no skin)
- 2 cups flour, divided
- 1⁄2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1⁄4 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried fennel (optional)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups Crisco shortening
- Dry your catfish filets with paper towels.
- Pour 1 cup of the flour on a plate and "dust" the filets and set them aside on another plate for about half an hour. (This process helps to keep the coating on the fish as they fry).
- Next, heat the shortening in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Set up a shallow medium-sized bowl and a dinner plate for "drenching" and "dredging" the fillets.
- In the bowl, break the eggs and beat them a bit, then add the buttermilk and the lemon juice and whisk these ingredients a few seconds until blended.
- On the plate, pour the remaining cup of flour, cornmeal, garlic salt, thyme, table salt, baking soda, and fennel (if you're using it). Mix it up with a fork or with your fingers.
- Dip a fillet into the liquid, coating it totally, and then allow it to drip off a bit. Then, roll it carefully in the flour/cornmeal mix until it is coated all over. Carefully lay the fillet in the hot oil. It should start frying immediately -- if not, your oil is not hot enough!
- Repeat this process until you have half of the fillets in the pan. You don't want to crowd them so plan on doing the fish in two separate batches.
- When the fillets have turned a golden brown on the bottom side, carefully turn them to fry the other side. Remove them to a plate with some paper towels on it once they are golden brown all over (about 3-4 minutes for each side). (The fillets should be snow-white in the thick portion of the fillet, and the meat should "flake apart" when pulled apart with a fork).
- Serve either as a sandwich, or, plate up the fish with side dishes (I like good coleslaw and baked beans with my catfish). A tangy tartar sauce is also good with fried catfish. Enjoy!
- NOTE: Pan-fried catfish makes an EXCELLENT breakfast, along with fried potatoes, when you're camping!