Fried catfish is a staple on any Southern table, perfect with a side of coleslaw, hush puppies or cornbread. Many Southerners associate it with grandma's cooking and summertime fish fries. Catfish are caught and eaten throughout the country, and many people know them from their cat-like whiskers that give them their name. Although there are many types of catfish in the United States, there are few key species that are most commonly eaten.
There are thousands of different species of catfish, and the United States has over 30. These bottomfeeding fish come in all sizes and colors, but they all have their distinctive whiskers, called barbels. Interestingly, they're also one of the fish species with no scales, giving them uniquely smooth skin. In North America, anglers typically catch the species that are part of "The Big Three," the three species that are the most common in the continent.
These three species are blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish, and at least one of them can be found in the majority of lakes, rivers and reservoirs throughout the country. These tasty fish are enjoyed in a variety of instances, from BBQs to fine dining. They can also be served in a wide varieties of ways, from deep fried to battered to baked. Although this topic can be a source of heated debate throughout the south, the truth is that most freshly-caught catfish of the right size will be a delicious treat no matter its preparation. Here are some of the most common types of catfish and how to cook them perfectly.
Blue catfish, or Ictalurus Furcatus, is one of the "big three" catfish species enjoyed throughout the United States. Also called the Mississippi white catfish, hump-back blue, and high fin blue, this type of catfish is typically light blue to slate blue to dark blue in color and is known for its forked tail fin, along with having an anal fin. Some have dark spots as well. This type of catfish is the largest species of catfish in the United States.
Blue catfish can be found in large rivers, tributaries, reservoirs, and lakes. They're native to the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers and can also be found in Mexico, the northern part of Guatemala, and the southern United States. Blue catfish have a mild, sweet flavor that makes them versatile and great for a number of different dishes.
The channel catfish is the state fish of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Tennessee. This type also has a forked tail, but its coloring sets it apart from the blue catfish. This type of catfish can be found in many different colors, and often has black spots as well.
Channel catfish are distinctive from other species because of their protruding upper jaw, as opposed to the lower jaw. This species is the most abundant species in the United States and are the type most commonly served at restaurants. Channel catfish are slightly less fatty than blue catfish, with a very firm texture when fried, and could be described as a muddier version of blue catfish.
Flathead catfish is the third species of the "big three," and is popular for its humongous size. The world record flathead was 123 pounds! Flathead catfish, also called yellow cat, shovelhead cat, and pied cat, are also popular because of how many are in the United States.
This species is native to rivers and lakes in the lower Great Lakes, along with in the Mississippi Basin. They love muddy water and deep pools of creeks with almost no current, but mainly eat live fish for their diet, giving them a clean taste with no hint of mud. Many chefs feel that flathead catfish are the best species for high-quality meals, prized for their clean taste and flaky texture.
Although not part of the "big three" species of catfish, bullhead catfish are another popular type. There are different kinds of bullhead catfish, the most common being the black bullhead, the brown bullhead, and the yellow bullhead. They can be found in eastern North America, all the way from Montana to Texas. Bullhead catfish are often in similar environments to channel catfish, and sometimes anglers catch them on accident. If found in clean water, bullhead catfish will make an excellent meal.
White catfish are a species growing in popularity for cooking and eating. They have forked tails and rounded tops and can reach up to 10 pounds. White catfish enjoy eating fish, clams, crayfish, fruit and berries along with other things, and are native along the US Altantic coast, from Florida to New York.
How to Cook Catfish to Perfection
Before cooking catfish, it's important to remove the skin, fat and internal organs, as pollutants can accumulate in these parts of the fish. However, once you've properly skinned and cleaned your fish, you're all set for a tasty meal.
Catfish is most commonly deep-fried, but it can also be baked, grilled and pan-fried for a healthier version. Catfish tastes mild and sweet and is denser than many similar fish, making it ideal for a number of cooking methods. Although you can enjoy catfish in a variety of ways, frying it is the best way to make Southern-style fried Catfish.
Although the coating depends on the recipe and on your preferences, it often includes cornmeal, flour, garlic powder, black pepper, and paprika. Many recipes also involve soaking the catfish in milk while the oil is heating up. Then, the catfish is coated in breading and fried until golden brown and crispy.
Get a full recipe for fried catfish at Simply Recipes.
READ NOW: How to Throw a Proper Fish Fry