In the south, fried catfish is a about the best bang you can get for your seafood buck. I don’t hate fried catfish—breading it in cornmeal actually goes a long way to making the mud-dwelling fish taste less dirty—but I prefer blackened fish. So I’ve taken a page from the chicken frying tradition to preseason my catfish before searing.
Whenever I make buttermilk waffles/pancakes, I usually have leftover buttermilk. Whenever I have leftover buttermilk, I always use it to season catfish. A buttermilk marinade makes catfish taste like amberjack or grouper, even if the texture isn’t quite the same. It’s a cheap and easy way to enjoy top-quality seafood for a fraction of the price.
There’s no real recipe necessary here. Just make sure your catfish fillets are cleaned of all skin; it’s like shoe leather. Then put the fish in a zip top bag and add enough buttermilk to cover the fillets. Next, add about a teaspoon of Louisiana hot sauce and shake the bag to incorporate. Let the fish marinate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
When you’re almost ready to cook the catfish, rinse the fillets under cool water to remove all of the buttermilk. Use paper towels to dry them thoroughly. I usually also place the fish on a wire rack so that the air can circulate around all sides of the fillets.
I like to cook fish fillets like this on a cast iron pan on the grill. That way, I don’t have to worry about oil splattering and the house doesn’t smell like browned butter and burnt fish for days.
I just heat the pan over medium-high heat. Right before cooking, I coat the pan in canola oil and add a tablespoon of butter. Right before adding the fish fillets to the pan, I season them with my spice blend that I’ve mentioned before. It’s nothing special. It’s 3 parts Old Bay to 1 part Tony Chachere’s with a little bit of all-purpose flour and parsley mixed in. I keep it in a shaker in my pantry.
A little of this stuff goes a long way. The spices season the meat and the flour helps to build a crust on the fish.
Fry the fish until the internal temperature reaches around 140°, flipping once.
This is stupid easy cooking. All you have to do is add a little lemon and the catfish loses all of the muddy characteristics that make people averse to it in the first place. And even though it’s blackened, this spice mixture doesn’t taste particularly hot. It just tastes like good seafood.
You might be thinking that this blackened catfish could be more, well, black. It could. You just need to add more butter and black pepper. But this is how I like it.