Fried catfish lives in Americana folklore as a staple in many regions’ diets. It’s delicious breaded with cornmeal, another crop native to the Americas. Find the best quality catfish and heirloom medium-to-coarse-ground cornmeal you can, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a memorable meal. Add your favorite tartar sauce (whether store bought or homemade!), a dash of lemon juice, and your favorite fresh beverage for a delicious meal.
The classic pairing of ‘chips’ or in our case here oven fries, makes the dish. We’ve decided to include a recipe for oven fries, so that the dish is not entirely fried. This method of baking the fries is a bit healthier and while it takes a little longer, the results are just as delicious!
Pre-heat canola oil (or any vegetable oil suitable for frying) over medium-high heat in heavy-bottomed skillet to 340 F. You can use a thermometer here to measure the temperature if you’d like, or flick a few small pieces of flour into the oil– if it sizzles like it’s cooking, the oil is ready. Remember to not warm it to the point that it smokes, as this can cause a release of carcinogenic compounds, not to mention it tastes bad and you will have to start over!
While your oil is heating, whisk together the cornmeal, all purpose flour, baking powder, salt, freshly ground pepper, garlic and onion powder and cayenne in a large bowl. Make sure you break up any clumps and whisk well enough to distribute the baking powder evenly. Baking powder is included in this recipe because it will help give the crispy exterior a little more air and prevent it from being too soggy. The cayenne is of course optional, but it gives a nice kick!
Pat the catfish of any excess liquid and dredge each side in the cornmeal mixture, being sure to shake off any excess dry ingredients so there are no clumps. Fry two at a time in hot oil, just 5-7 minutes each side, or until golden and crispy. Set aside on a baking tray lined with paper towels to drain, and season again with flaky sea salt.
Meanwhile for the fries, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. I like to use Russet potatoes, as they have the proper starch content for fries. Rinse the potatoes well, and slice them into wedges no thicker than 1/2 an inch. If you have the time to soak them beforehand, make a lukewarm saltwater mixture and let the cut fries marinate in that, which will help remove some of their starch and make them easier to bake and crisp up! If you don’t have the time, don’t worry! Just cut them, place them in a bowl and toss them with the olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and paprika.
Line a baking sheet with baking or parchment paper and spread the dressed potato slices evenly over it. Bake in your preheated oven until crispy and golden brown, 15-20 minutes, stirring partway through.
Serve fried catfish with chips and a side of tartar sauce or ketchup. Enjoy!