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Preparation, uses, and tips

To remove the skin, grasp the tail using a towel or glove, slit strips with a knife, and peel back the skin with pliers.

To remove the head, cut the flesh on both sides with a knife. If the fish is small, slice directly through the spine. For a larger fish, place a knife between vertebrae and tap the back of the knife with a hammer.

To fillet, use a sharp, thin knife. With the catfish lying on its side, insert the knife behind the gills, and cut in an arc down to just above the backbone. Continue cutting parallel to the backbone toward the tail. Bring the knife up at the tail and remove the fillet.

To make steaks, place the catfish on its side. With a sharp knife, cut slices 3/4 to 1/2-inch (1.9 to 1.25cm) thick perpendicular to the spine. Tap the back of the blade with a wooden mallet to cut through the spine.

To minimize any muddy taste, marinate fish in lemon juice or buttermilk for 30 minutes before cooking.

The secret to successful catfish cookery is to not overcook. Whichever of the following cooking methods you choose, your catfish will be cooked when its flesh becomes opaque and can easily be pierced with a fork.


Rinse fish and pat dry with a paper towel. Place whole fish, fillets, or steaks in a baking pan and cover with a sauce made of liquid, herbs, spices, and vegetables. Bake in an oven preheated to 400°F (200°C) until a knife slice in the thickest part reveals the flesh to be opaque but still moist.


Place fillets or steaks directly on greased grill, 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) above prepared coals or fire. Baste with butter, oil, or marinade, and close the hood of grill. Cook until opaque and moist on the inside—6 to 8 minutes for fish less than 1-inch (2.5cm) thick, and 10 to 15 minutes for fish larger than 1-inch (2.5cm) thick.

Pan frying

Rinse catfish and pat dry with a paper towel. Dredge in flour and seasonings. Shake off any excess flour. Heat frying pan until hot. Add butter or oil, place fillets in pan, and cook, turning once, until opaque but still moist in the center—2 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.

Deep frying

Pour oil into a wok or deep fryer; it should be at least 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) deep. The cooker should be less than half full of oil. Heat oil to 375° F (190°C), using a thermometer to monitor temperature. Cut catfish into similar-sized pieces, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2-inch (3 to 3.8cm) across. Dip in batter, drain, then slip catfish pieces into hot oil. Cook until brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.


Bring poaching liquid, consisting of water, broth, herbs, and spices, to a simmer. Slip in skinless fillets, then cover pan and keep liquid at a simmer for about 8 minutes per inch (2.54cm) of thickness.


Rinse catfish fillets or steaks and pat dry with a paper towel. Coat fish with flour, crumbs, or cornmeal if desired. Place fish on a rack above a baking dish. Preheat broiler and adjust oven rack so fish is 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10cm) from the element. Broil, turning once, until the fish is opaque but still moist in the center—about 3 to 10 minutes, depending on size of the fish.

Buying and storing tips

Quality catfish is easy to recognize. Fresh catfish never smells fishy; it smells fresh, like clean river water. The eyes should appear bright and clear, almost alive. The gills should be clean; be sure to remove the skin before cooking. Fresh catfish flesh will give slightly when you press it with a finger, then spring back into shape.

When choosing catfish steaks or fillets, whether they’re fresh or previously frozen, look for moist, translucent (never dried out) flesh. Keep catfish cool on the trip from the market to your house; never let it stay unrefrigerated for long. To store catfish, remove packaging, rinse fish under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Fish deteriorates when it sits in its own juices, so place it on a cake rack in a shallow pan filled with crushed ice. Cover with cling wrap or foil and set in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Catfish will store well this way for up to two days.

When well-wrapped, catfish can be frozen for up to two months in a refrigerator and for three to four months in a deep-freeze. Use lined freezer paper, and wrap fish tightly from head to tail with at least two layers of paper. To thaw slowly, unwrap, place the fish in the pan, cover, and leave for 24 hours in the refrigerator. To thaw more quickly, place the whole fish (wrapped in a waterproof bag) in a sink with cool running water, allowing about 30 minutes per pound (450g). For fastest thawing, use the defrost cycle of your microwave, allowing 2 to 5 minutes per pound (450g), with equal standing time in between zaps (as one minute defrost to one minute resting).


There are more than 2,000 species of catfish, but most on the market are the native channel catfish. Wild fish are also sometimes available. Catfish are available live, fresh or frozen, whole or filleted, or in “nuggets” of meat cut from the belly.

Nutrition Highlights

Catfish (farmed), 1 fillet (5 oz.) (141.5g) (cooked, dry heat)
Calories: 217
Protein: 26.7g
Carbohydrate: 0.0g
Total Fat: 11.5g
Fiber: 0.0g
*Excellent source of: Selenium (20.7mcg), and Vitamin B12 (4mcg)
*Good source of: Potassium (459mg), and Niacin (3.6mg)

*Foods that are an “excellent source” of a particular nutrient provide 20% or more of the Recommended Daily Value. Foods that are a “good source” of a particular nutrient provide between 10 and 20% of the Recommended Daily Value.

When cooked (dry heat), wild catfish provides 0.333 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, derived from EPA (0.1g), DHA (0.137g), and ALA (0.096g), per 100 grams of wild catfish. When cooked (dry heat), farmed catfish provides 0.259 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, derived from EPA (0.049g), DHA (0.128), and ALA (0.082g), per 100 grams of farmed catfish.

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