We’ve all had our share of soggy fried catfish. (And if you haven’t, lucky you.) While your filets may emerge from the frying pan perfectly crisp and golden brown, they can quickly turn lukewarm and lackluster before they hit the table.
The trick to frying catfish—or anything else for that matter—is cooking it in batches, while keeping each finished batch hot. Whether you’re frying catfish for four or 40 people, it’s important to fry the fish in batches and not overcrowd the pan. Make sure there is a little “breathing room” around each piece of fish so that you can flip them easily, and to make sure that each piece browns evenly on both sides.
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But by the time you’re on to cooking your second or third batch, the first batch of catfish is rapidly cooling. Here’s what to do: Before you fry the fish, preheat the oven to 200˚F. Set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet and place inside the oven while it preheats. After you fry each batch of catfish, transfer the filets to the wire rack and return the pan to the oven. The low heat of the oven will keep the fish hot without drying it out, and the wire rack will keep the fish elevated, so that it stays crisp on all sides.
Mississippi chef Nick Wallace, who also happens to be a fried catfish master, says this is his preferred way to keep catfish warm. He recommends buying Delacata style catfish filets because they are thick and meaty from end to end, which helps them fry up more evenly—no overdone ends or underdone centers.
Wallace also serves his fried fish with a side of Black-Eyed Pea Ranchero Sauce, which is an equally good idea.