How to Make Perfect Blackened Catfish
Our new blackened catfish recipe is guaranteed to get your tastebuds dancing!
Article, recipe, and photographs by Marrekus and Krysten Wilkes of Cooks with Soul
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Growing up in the South, catfish was a staple in our food catalog. The fact that we could literally catch them in just about every single body of water that was near us, and the versatility of this fish, made it a go-to for us. Normally we had it deep-fried, which is crispy and amazing, but as I get older, I try to avoid cooking with all the oil you need for that style of cooking.
This simple blackened catfish recipe combines my love for catfish with my love for Cajun cooking. The mild and flaky texture of the fish lets it take on whatever spices you throw at it — and in this case, the big flavors in Cajun seasonings really take the fish to the next level. The simplicity of the dish with only 5 main ingredients will make this weeknight recipe an instant hit with your family.
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Ingredients for Blackened Catfish
The limited number of ingredients in this dish makes it super easy to pull off. Catfish fillets, cooking oil, butter, and seasonings are all it takes to deliver a top-notch meal.
Catfish. Even though I enjoy a good fishing trip and go as often as I can, for weeknight meals I typically head to my local fish market to pick up fresh catfish fillets. There are two main types in the United States that make good table fare: channel catfish and blue catfish. Channel catfish are normally found in warmer waters, whereas blue catfish are found in colder locations. Blue catfish also grow substantially bigger. Personally, I prefer blue catfish, as I find the meat sweeter, but in most cities, channel catfish are easiest to find (they’re often farmed). Whether it’s channel catfish or blue catfish, this dish will still turn out to be excellent. (No catfish? You can try the recipe with snapper.)
All-purpose seasoning. Look for a simple blend that’s a combination of salty and savory. We use our Cooks With Soul’s Soul Dust, made with salt, pepper, and garlic.
Blackening rub. We make our own version, which combines the spicy, earthy and savory blends of cayenne pepper, rosemary, thyme, and a few other key ingredients, but you can also find good blends at your local grocery store. They might also be called blackening seasoning or blackened seasoning.
Grapeseed oil. You want an oil like grapeseed with a high smoke point that can take temperatures about 400°F, because you’re going to get your skillet piping hot to give your fish that deep blackened color.
Unsalted butter. This is a key ingredient to this dish, because as the butter begins to brown it adds a nutty flavor that perfectly complements the spices and herbs from the blackening rub.
Get ready to cook
When making blackened catfish, there are a couple of keys to success.
1. Gather the right tools
A nice cast-iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed skillet
A fish spatula or other wide, thin metal spatula that lets you flip the fish easily, without disturbing the crust you’ve worked to build up
2. Allow time for seasoning
When working with blackening spices, you want to make sure that you give the fish time to absorb the spice mixture and begin to sweat a little so that you do not lose all your spice on the prep table.
First I season my fish with a good all-purpose seasoning and give it a nice press, then I come behind that with the blackening rub.
You want to season from up high so that you get a thick even coat to cover the fish. Let it sit about 10 minutes before you flip it to season the other side. By the time the fish hits the pan, it should have a dark reddish tint to it.
Blackened Catfish step by step
Cooking blackened catfish is an easy technique but in order to achieve that perfect blackened crust that we love, be sure to go step by step. I use an oil and butter mix because it lets me cook the fish as well as give it a rich brown butter flavor from the melted butter. Also, including some oil is a trick that keeps your butter from burning at high temperatures.
1. Heat the pan
Start heating up your skillet until you see a little smoke coming from it. Use medium-high heat rather than high heat so the spices won't scorch.
2. Add the oil to the hot skillet
Let the oil sit for 1-2 minutes until shimmering.
3. Add your butter and crank up the fan
Be sure to crack a window and turn your exhaust fan on high because you are about to have a nice billow of earthy, spicy, buttery smoke fill the room. Once you see the bubbles from your butter form, it’s time to add the fish.
4. Add the fish
Lay the fish in the pan away from you to keep from getting splattered by the hot oil. You want to make sure that every part of the fish is in contact with the skillet, so I like to give it a little press just to make sure it’s flat.
5. Resist the urge to flip too early
The fish is going to seem like it’s burning, but you must resist the urge to move it around. A good blackened fish will have a nice crust on it from the herbs in the spice roasting in the oil and butter. I let mine cook about 4-5 minutes before I flip it.
6. Flip the fish over
Give it a little press, and cook for another 4-5 minutes. When the fish is done it will easily flake apart and be white on the inside.
I like to place my fish on a tray with paper towels just to soak up a little of the oil and butter from the skillet.
Get the recipe
You can serve this dish with your favorite sides, such as mashed potatoes, sauteed vegetables, or Cajun dirty rice, and do not dare throw away that flavorful butter and oil mixture from the skillet. Spoon a little over the top of your fish when it’s time to serve. Give the fish a good squeeze of lemon juice, and you will have the perfect combination of tanginess, earthiness, and spiciness that will have your tastebuds in overdrive.
Explore more Southern recipes
Now that we’ve put you in the mood for Cajun flavors — and perhaps you have some cayenne, paprika, black pepper, and oregano on hand — let’s explore some more ways to put spices to good use in Southern recipes! We'll swing by Maryland; Memphis, Tennessee; and New Orleans, Louisiana.