Air Fryer Southern Fried Catfish

Crispy, golden brown catfish fillets with a delightfully crunchy cornmeal coating are now easily achievable right in your air fryer! This easy recipe produces moist, flavorful catfish encrusted with a deliciously crispy exterior in half the time of traditional frying methods.

air fryer catfish cornmeal

With just a small amount of prep, you can enjoy mouthwatering southern-style air fryer catfish fillets boasting spice-infused Cajun flavors in less than 20 minutes.

Buttermilk marinating ensures tender and juicy fish while a coating of cornmeal, flour, and Cajun seasoning lends unmatched crunch you’ll crave bite after bite. Serve these easy yet impressive fillets alongside some classic sides for a quick and tasty meal the whole family will devour!

💖 Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Crispy– The cornmeal coating makes these catfish fillets extra crispy without needing to deep fry them. Who doesn’t love a crispy, golden exterior on their fish? The cornmeal provides just the right crunch to contrast the moist, flaky catfish inside.

air fryer southern fried catfish

The Perfect Combination of Flavors– The combination of Cajun and lemon pepper seasonings gives these fillets a zesty, dynamic flavor. The heat from the Cajun blend mingles beautifully with the bright citrus notes of lemon pepper. This seasoning combo adds lots of big, bold flavor without much effort.

Easy and Quick– This air fryer catfish cornmeal recipe comes together in no time! With just 10-15 minutes of actual cook time, you can have these catfish fillets on the table quickly any night of the week. No more having to run out for fried fish because you didn’t plan ahead!

✨ Recipe Ingredients

For this air fryer cornmeal fish recipe you will need:

  • 2 Catfish Fillets (7-8 oz each)
  • 1/2 cup Buttermilk (shaken)
  • 1/2 cup Yellow Cornmeal (fine grind)
  • 1 teaspoon Hot Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lemon Pepper

👨‍🍳 How To Make

Follow this easy air fryer catfish cornmeal recipe:

Step 1

Place the buttermilk in a large shallow dish. Add the hot sauce and mix well to combine. Place the catfish fillets inside and coat them. Let them sit in the buttermilk mixture for about 40 minutes.

Step 2

In another tray, add the flour, seasonings, cornmeal, and black pepper. Mix them to combine.

Step 3

Remove the fillets from the buttermilk and remove the excess liquid. Pat dry them and sprinkle them with salt. Cover the fillets with the cornmeal mixture.

Step 4

Preheat your air fryer to 400F (200C) and spray the basket with cooking oil. Once hot, place the fillets inside (in one layer!). Air fry for 7-8 minutes.

Step 5

Flip them carefully, and air fry for 8-10 additional minutes until crispy and golden brown.

Step 6

Let the air fryer southern fried catfish fillets cool for at least 15 minutes, and then serve with your favorite sauce. Enjoy this amazing recipe!

air fryer cornmeal fish

💡Tips

1. Achieving the Perfect Cornmeal Coating

The cornmeal coating is crucial for that perfect, crispy exterior. To ensure an even and adherent coating, it’s vital to use fine-grind cornmeal as it sticks better to the fish. For an extra crunch, you can mix in a small amount of panko breadcrumbs or crushed cornflakes with the cornmeal.

Before coating, make sure the fillets are slightly damp but not overly wet. This helps the coating to adhere better. After coating, let the fillets sit for about 5-10 minutes. This resting period allows the coating to set and reduces the chances of it falling off during cooking.

2. Buttermilk Marinade for Flavor and Texture

Marinating catfish fillets in buttermilk is an essential step in this air fryer catfish cornmeal recipe. The acidic nature of buttermilk helps in tenderizing the fish, making it softer and juicier.

Consider adding additional flavors to the buttermilk mixture. Incorporating minced garlic, a dash of smoked paprika, or even a small amount of mustard can enhance the flavor profile.

Ensure the fillets are fully submerged for an even marinate. Additionally, marinating time can be adjusted based on the thickness of the fillets – thicker fillets can benefit from a longer marinating time, up to 2 hours, to allow deeper penetration of flavors.

air fryer catfish cornmeal recipe

3. Adjust Air Fryer Time As Needed

The stated cooking times are simply estimates and actual air fryer cooking time can vary depending on the model. Carefully check the catfish at the minimum stated time, then continue frying in 1-2 minute increments until the coating is crispy and golden brown and the thickest part of the fillet reaches 145°F. Then let rest before serving.

4. Allow Proper Resting Time

Letting the fried catfish fillets rest for at least 15 minutes after cooking is key. The residual heat will continue cooking the center of the fillets. And the cooling time allows excess moisture to evaporate so the crust stays ultra crispy. Don’t skip this resting period or else you risk a soggy coating.

catfish cornmeal

Variations

1. Catfish Sandwich– Slice the fried catfish fillets and place on a toasted hoagie roll with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and remoulade sauce for a crispy, Cajun-style po’ boy sandwich.

2. Catfish Tacos– Warm corn or flour tortillas, add shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, avocado, and top with crumbled fried catfish for a fun taco night. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top. Olé!

3. Catfish Salad-  Toss chunks of fried catfish with mixed greens, fresh corn, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, chopped cucumbers, and buttermilk ranch dressing for a hearty main-dish salad.

4. Catfish and Grits– Serve crispy catfish over creamy stone-ground grits with sautéed peppers and onions for a comforting Southern meal.

5. Catfish Pasta– Toss the fried catfish with cooked pasta, halved cherry tomatoes, Parmesan, fresh basil, olive oil, and lemon zest for a zesty pasta dish.

Storage

This air fryer catfish can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

catfish cornmeal recipe

For longer storage, place the cooked catfish in freezer bags or airtight containers, removing as much air as possible before sealing. The catfish will keep for 2-3 months in the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating to serve.

Side Dish Ideas

1. Air Fryer Frozen Steak Fries– Who can resist a plate of crispy, golden fries with their fish? These steak fries hold up wonderfully in the air fryer, getting ultra crispy on the outside while staying fluffy on the inside. 

2. Air Fryer Carrot Fries– For a lighter, veggie-centric side, these sweet carrot fries are a crowd pleaser. Roasting the carrots in the air fryer caramelizes their natural sugars, intensifying their flavor. The natural sweetness plays off the cornmeal crust on the catfish for a sweet and savory duo.

3. Air Fryer Home Fries– Home fries are a quintessential fish fry side. Cubed potatoes get crispy and golden in the hot air, while still retaining a tender interior. Seasoned with onion, garlic, and paprika, these home fries make the perfect southern-inspired pair for that catfish.

4. Air Fryer Curly Fries– Fun, spiralized curly fries are an ideal match for the catfish. As the curly fries get ultra crispy in the air fryer, their unique shape holds pools of ketchup and spice for finger-licking goodness. 

Dipping Sauces

Here are 5 delicious dipping sauces that would pair perfectly with the air fried cornmeal catfish fillets:

1. Spicy Remoulade Sauce-  A bold, spicy remoulade sauce made with mayonnaise, Creole mustard, hot sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Cajun spices would add a tangy kick to the crispy catfish.

2. Herb Tartar Sauce– A homemade tartar sauce jazzed up with fresh dill, chives, parsley, capers, pickles, and lemon zest adds even more brightness and acid to balance the rich fried catfish.

3. Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce – Sweet honey mustard sauce made with whole grain mustard, honey, and lemon juice gives a nice contrast to the spicy Cajun flavors of the catfish.

4. Comeback Sauce – This Southern staple sauce made with mayonnaise, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, lemon juice, and hot sauce is the ultimate dipping companion for fried foods like catfish. 

5. Homemade Ranch Dressing– What better to dip crispy breaded catfish fillets in than a homemade ranch dressing made with real buttermilk, fresh herbs, onion, garlic, lemon juice, and spices. 

Keto / Low Carb Version

To make this air fryer catfish recipe lower in carbs and keto-friendly, there are a few simple substitutions you can make:

  • Skip the all-purpose flour when dredging. Replace it with almond flour or coconut flour instead.
  • Use a low carb alternative if you want a breading. Crushed pork rinds or parmesan cheese make great keto breading options.
  • Omit the cornmeal from the recipe. The almond flour or other keto-friendly dredge should provide enough crunch.
  • Season the fillets with the same cajun seasoning, salt, pepper and lemon pepper. These flavors aren’t adding much extra carbs.

The end result is deliciously crispy, flavorful low carb air fryer catfish without the carbs! Serve it with a side salad or low carb veggies for a keto-friendly meal.

Gluten Free Version

To make this air fryer catfish recipe gluten-free, simply swap out the all-purpose flour for a gluten-free flour blend. I recommend using a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend, which substitutes cup-for-cup for regular flour.

gluten free catfish cornmeal

Some good gluten-free flour options are:

  • Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour
  • Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Gluten Free Flour
  • King Arthur Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour

Use 1/2 cup of your selected gluten-free flour in place of the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe.

FAQ

1. Can I use almond milk or another non-dairy milk instead of buttermilk?

Unfortunately, the acids and proteins in buttermilk are important for tenderizing the catfish and helping the coating adhere. Non-dairy milks lack these qualities. You could try full-fat coconut milk but the end result may not be as good.

2. What can I use if I don’t have Cajun seasoning?

You can substitute a blend of paprika, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder instead of the Cajun seasoning. Adjust the amounts of spices to your desired level of heat and flavor.

air fryer southern fried catfish seasoning

3. Why is it important to let the cooked catfish rest before serving?

Letting it rest allows the juices to redistribute so you don’t lose them when cutting into the fish. It also gives the coating time to further crisp up. If you cut into it too soon, you risk a soggy coating.

4. What are some good dipping sauces for this air fryer catfish?

Tartar sauce, lemon wedges, honey mustard sauce, comeback sauce, and remoulade sauce all pair beautifully. The possibilities are endless for creating your favorite flavor profile using sauces and seasonings.


This air fryer cornmeal catfish is a quick and easy recipe that yields deliciously crispy, flavorful fish fillets. From the tangy buttermilk marinade to the crunchy, Cajun-spiced coating, you’ll love the dynamic textures and bold flavors.

Be sure to let the freshly fried fillets rest for maximum crispness, then serve them with a dipping sauce of your choice – spicy remoulade, tartar sauce, and comeback sauce make excellent accompaniments. Pair the fish with crispy fries or creamy grits for a well-rounded and satisfying meal.

I hope you’ll give this simple yet scrumptious air fryer recipe a try soon. Check out the rest of our site for more exciting air fryer ideas. As always, please leave a comment below with any questions or suggestions – we’d love to hear from you!

air fryer catfish cornmeal

Air Fryer Southern Fried Catfish

Easily make the crispiest and tastiest catfish with an air fryer! Follow my recipe and get ready to enjoy a delicious dinner.
4.70 from 13 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: air fryer catfish cornmeal, air fryer southern fried catfish
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 2 people
Calories: 170kcal
Cost: $15
Ingredients
  • 2 Catfish Fillets (7-8 oz each)
  • 1/2 cup Buttermilk (shaken)
  • 1/2 cup Yellow Cornmeal (fine grind)
  • 1 teaspoon Hot Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lemon Pepper
Instructions
  • Place the buttermilk in a large shallow dish. Add the hot sauce and mix well to combine. Place the catfish fillets inside and coat them. Let them soak in the buttermilk mixture for about 40 minutes.
  • In another tray, add the flour, seasonings, cornmeal, and black pepper. Mix them.
  • Remove the fillets from the buttermilk and remove the excess liquid. Pat dry them and sprinkle with salt. Cover the filletsn with the cornmeal mixture.
  • Preheat your air fryer to 400F (200C) and spray the basket with cooking oil. Once hot, place the fillets inside in a single layer and air fry for 7-8 minutes.
  • Flip them carefully, and air fry for 8-10 additional minutes until crispy and golden brown.
  • Let the air fryer southern fried catfish fillets cool for at least 15 minutes, and then serve with your favorite sauce. Enjoy this amazing recipe!
    air fryer catfish cornmeal airfryandeat

Nutrition

Calories: 170kcal

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Author:

Meet William James, your go-to guru for all things air fryer! A culinary adventurer with a passion for healthier twists on classic dishes, William transformed his love for cooking and experimentation into a one-stop resource for fellow air fryer enthusiasts.

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