Maw Maw’s Fried Catfish

by Jay D. Ducote

Maw Maws are the best fry cooks in the world. And I think this can be said for just about all Maw Maws. With cast-iron skillets older than any of their grandchildren, they are the seasoned ingredients that hold Louisianian families together. Mine lives near the airport in north Baton Rouge, and growing up, I remember how the windows rattled as planes approached the runway. I wouldn’t be surprised if pilots and their crews could smell her kitchen from 40,000 feet—the aromas of rice and gravy filled the air most days.

I recall a few times when Maw Maw broke out her trusty cast-iron skillet and got down on some fried catfish. Since the legendary Tony’s Seafood was on the way to Maw Maw’s, it became a family tradition to pick up some of their boudin balls and boiled shrimp to serve along with dinner. The live catfish tanks were a sight to behold for a youngster like me.

I like fried catfish any way Maw Maw cooks it. A large, hearty fillet does just fine for me. Aunt Turtle, on the other hand, always had a thing for the way thin-cut catfish crisps up around the edges. And I have to say, I like those just fine, too!

Fried catfish will always be a dish that brings me back to Maw Maw’s house and reminds me of family. Now that I’m the chef, I like to serve it with a bit more than ketchup or store-bought condiments. A little homemade tartar sauce and spicy relish typically does the trick!

Fried Catfish
Serves 8
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  1. Peanut oil or other mild-flavored oil, for frying
  2. 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  3. 2 tablespoons hot sauce
  4. 1 1/2 cups plain white cornmeal
  5. 1 1/2 cups masa harina
  6. 4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, such as Verrones
  7. 10 catfish fillets (4 to 5 pounds)
  8. Creole Tartar Sauce, recipe follows
  9. Jalapeño Relish, recipe follows
  10. Coleslaw (optional)
  1. In a large Dutch oven or other large pot, pour oil to a depth of 4 inches, and heat over medium heat until it reads 375º on a candy or deep-fry thermometer.
  2. In a shallow dish, stir together cream and hot sauce. In another shallow dish, stir together cornmeal, masa harina, and Cajun seasoning.
  3. Coat each fish fillet in cream mixture, then dredge in cornmeal mixture. Fry fillets in batches in hot oil until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with Creole Tartar Sauce, Jalapeño Relish, and coleslaw, if desired.
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Creole Tartar Sauce
Serves 8
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  1. 1 cup mayonnaise
  2. 1/2 cup Creole mustard
  3. 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  4. 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
  5. 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  6. 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  7. 1 teaspoon salt
  8. 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  9. 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, shallot, green onion, lemon juice, garlic, salt, hot sauce, and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.
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Jalapeño Relish
Serves 8
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  1. 6 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped (about 1 pound)
  2. 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  3. 1/2 cup sugar
  4. 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  5. 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  6. 1 teaspoon celery salt
  7. 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  8. 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  1. To the work bowl of a food processor, add jalapeños and salt; process until smooth.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, celery salt, and turmeric to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer; add jalapeño mixture and onion, and cook 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.
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  1. What a precious memory of your Maw Maw! It brought me back to my own Maw Maw who would fry catfish in her old iron skillet, and, afterwards, fry her tasty homemade hush-puppies! Thanks for the delicious recipes.

  2. I grew up on plank road and loved going to Tony’s Seafood.
    Loved watching them catching the fish.
    I will definitely be trying this recipe.


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