Southern Air Fryer Catfish

Comfort Food, Southern Dinners

Deep fried catfish. A Southern delicacy. We’ve reinvented this timeless classic into a healthier (and still delicious!) version with our air fryer catfish recipe.

Growing up in a family of fishermen, you find out all there is to know about cleaning, preparing, serving up the catch of the day. With no ocean nearby, we dished up local favorites caught in lakes and rivers nearby. Fried fish was (and still is) a popular dish throughout the country and around the globe.

Today, we have more options for seasoning, marinating, and cooking different types of seafood from all over the world thanks to advanced techniques with flash-frozen foods and equipment such as the air fryer. Catfish is a favorite due to its firm texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor. Most farmed catfish in the US comes from the Deep South, so it’s always been a staple in Southern cooking.

Fresh or Frozen

Some chefs insist that buying fresh catfish is the only way to go. However, not all of us have a nearby market with quality fillets on demand. If you do, this is amazing and you are encouraged to take advantage.

For many of us, a frozen product is the way to go. There is definitely a convenience factor involved with buying packaged frozen fish. First of all, you have a larger window of time to create your catfish masterpiece because you won’t have to worry about immediate spoilage. Buying frozen is often more affordable and can be bought in bulk if you know what you like. One of the best ways to cook catfish is in the air-fryer and this can be done with both fresh and frozen fish.

How Can I Prepare Catfish?

One of the best things about using catfish as your protein choice is the endless possibilities for mouth-watering recipes you can whip up. Cooking options include air-fried (as we’re cooking today), grilled, blackened, deep fried, and baked. Serving styles vary from Memphis-style to cajun catfish with all the traditional trimmings.

Tacos, po’ boy sandwiches, or a crispy Southern fried catfish fillet plated alongside hush puppies and greens are just some of the many ways it can be enjoyed. If you’re looking for dipping sauces, a tartar sauce, hot sauce, or remoulade would be a tasty addition. A simple drizzle from lemon wedges is also perfect.

Suggested Sides for Air Fryer Catfish

You can make the most amazing catfish, but without the sides, your meal is not complete! Using seafood with a mild flavor provides a great opportunity to get creative with your sides.

Our Southern Cole Slaw is a must with this dish.

And soul food favorites like green beans with bacon, hush puppies, corn bread, macaroni and cheese, or our Instant Pot Collard Greens would also pair perfectly with this dish.

Air Fryer Benefits

Air fried fish is a healthier alternative to deep fried fish because it doesn’t need the addition of cooking oil. And as an added bonus, there’s a much smaller mess to deal with when you’re finished air frying!

There are many amazing products on the market to choose from such as commercial style, compact air fryers and large air fryers. Air fryer brands are available in different colors, sizes, and shapes to fit any kitchen. An electric air fryer is a convenience that once you start using, you may wonder why you waited so long to start!

Air Frying Tips and Tricks

Using a new appliance can be a little daunting as you figure out all the ways it can benefit you life. The air fryer is no different. Here are some things to keep in mind that will make using your air fryer a pleasant experience:

  • Before you air fry, read the directions that come with your appliance- different units may have variations in the power level or abilities. Make sure that you are familiar with the capabilities of your air fryer before you get started.
  • To prevent sticking, use a tiny spray of oil to the surface of the basket. Most baskets have a non-stick coating so you may not even need any extra oil. Be careful with commercial products as some types may not be suitable for air fryers.
  • If you are trying to decide which size of air fryer to purchase, consider who you will be feeding and your counter space. Having room in your fryer to prepare food for a crowd does make have a larger air fryer convenient.
  • Use tongs to turn food once during cooking. This ensures even crispiness and protection from hot surfaces.
  • Be sure to clean your air fryer basket after cooling. The longer residue stays on after cooking, the harder it is to clean later.

Air Fryer Catfish

air fryer catfish

Fried fish is a staple of Southern food, and this fish recipe results in a crispy crust coming from the traditional cornmeal coating while changing things up a bit with the air fry cooking method. Seasonings like paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper give this crust a familiarity that may make it your new favorite Southern food. Your health will benefit from the reduction in oil from a deep-fry and you’ll still get plenty of crunch and flavor.

What You’ll Need for Air Fryer Catfish

Ingredients

  • 4 catfish fillets, thawed or fresh
  • 1/2 cup of fine yellow cornmeal – be sure to select a fine grain, or the batter may be gritty
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cut buttermilk
  • 1 tsp of paprika (traditional or smoked)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon, in 4 wedges

How to Prepare Air Fryer Catfish

Directions

  1. Start by preheating your air fryer for 2-3 minutes at 400 degrees. This ensures thorough cooking.
  2. In a dish, measure and mix your cornmeal, flour, cheese, garlic and onion powders, cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper.
  3. In a different dish, use a fork or a whisk to scramble up your egg and buttermilk.
  4. Pat each catfish fillet dry with a paper towel, then dip into the egg mixture, coating both sides letting the excess drip back into the dish. A thin coating is all you need to get the crust to stick.
  5. Press the catfish into the cornmeal mixture on both sides of fish, making sure to coat fully and evenly.
  6. Using your tongs, carefully set your fillets evenly on the air fryer basket surface. If you wish to give a light spray of olive oil for extra crispiness and to prevent sticking, do this now.
  7. Set your timer for 12 minutes, turning with your tongs halfway through the cooking time. At the halfway point, you can also remove from the basket to spray a small amount of lemon juice or oil to prevent it from drying out. Place back in the basket and cook the additional time.
  8. Remove from air fryer and check to be sure that your catfish is cooked all the way through. Serve with lemon wedge, dipping sauces, and sides of your choice.

Notes on the Air Fryer Catfish Recipe

This recipe uses previously frozen, thawed catfish fillets. Using frozen fillets will increase the cooking time, so keep that in mind. Size of the fillets will also vary the cooking time.

If any of the seasoning ingredients are unavailable, you can use a seasoning like Old Bay or your favorite mix to give your dish the flavor you prefer. You could add in a bit more lemon juice while cooking to make it a citrus fried catfish dish.

If You Do Want to Deep Fry

You can go for a deep fry with this recipe, if you don’t have an air fryer or are just in the mood for the full deep fry experience. After you batter your fish per our recipe’s instructions, just switch over to the below steps:

  • Pour about a half inch of canola oil into your skillet.
  • Bring the oil to 350 degrees on your stovetop burner. Tip: If you don’t have an oil thermometer, set the burner to medium, wait till your oil reaches that setting’s temperature, and then drop a cube of bread in. If it browns in about a minute, that’s the temperature you need. If it burns in that time, it’s too hot, so turn your burner down a bit.
  • Carefully place your battered filets into the oil, keeping them spaced out, and fry until golden brown — about 3 minutes per side.
  • Place them in the oven at about 260 degrees to keep them warm while you finish cooking.

We hope you enjoy this Southern-style delicious air fryer catfish recipe!

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Southern Air Fryer Catfish

Our Southern Air Fryer Catfish recipe is a healthier twist on traditional Southern deep fried catfish. The air fryer method fries without using oil.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time12 mins
Total Time22 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: cornmeal batter
Servings: 4
Calories: 328kcal
Author: Brooke

Equipment

  • air fryer
  • tongs

Ingredients

  • 4 fillets catfish frozen or fresh
  • 1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 egg large
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp paprika traditional or smoked
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon in wedges

Instructions

  • Preheat your air fryer for 2-3 minutes at 400 degrees.
  • In a dish, measure and mix your cornmeal, flour, cheese, garlic and onion powders, cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper.
  • In a different dish, use a fork or a whisk to scramble up your egg and buttermilk.
  • Pat each catfish fillet dry with a paper towel, then dip into the egg mixture, coating both sides letting the excess drip back into the dish. A thin coating is all you need to get the crust to stick.
  • Press the catfish into the cornmeal mixture on both sides of fish, making sure to coat fully and evenly.
  • Using your tongs, carefully set your fillets evenly on the air fryer basket surface. If you wish to give a light spray of olive oil for extra crispiness and to prevent sticking, do this now.
  • Set your timer for 12 minutes, turning with your tongs halfway through the cooking time. At the halfway point, you can also remove from the basket to spray a small amount of lemon juice or oil to prevent it from drying out. Place back in the basket and cook the additional time.
  • Remove from air fryer and check to be sure that your catfish is cooked all the way through.

Nutrition

Serving: 4g | Calories: 328kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 147mg | Sodium: 492mg | Potassium: 771mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 321IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 128mg | Iron: 2mg
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