Air fryer catfish is a great way to enjoy fried fish without any of the guilt. Cooked in buttermilk and cajun seasoning batter, this easy dinner recipe is rich in flavor and only takes 15 minutes to cook.
The air fryer catfish recipe is a great way to get the taste of fried catfish without all the mess. This recipe uses buttermilk and cajun seasoning, but feel free to use whatever spice or hot sauce you prefer. You can serve this over rice for a filling meal or as an appetizer.
If this recipe inspires you, make sure you check out our other best air fryer recipes.
You can use a few simple ingredients to achieve the perfect crunch and balance it with cooking it healthy. These include, but will not always be limited to, catfish, seasoning, salt and pepper (or whatever floats your boat, such as hot sauce), parsley to garnish, milk or buttermilk, cornmeal, and also all-purpose flour. The ingredients that you choose to work with depending on the recipe you will be working with. But there are guiding factors.
When it comes to choosing the catfish, you can either have it frozen or fresh. Bear in mind that the frozen option will need extra thawing time. You will also need to make sure that they are nice and dry before you start cooking them. One thing for sure, fish fillets work best.
You will need to marinate the fish in regular milk or buttermilk. Buttermilk is a bit curdled, and as such, it is thicker than regular milk. Adding lemon juice or vinegar will make it tangy and add a kick that pairs well with fish. Buttermilk has an acidic component that regular milk does not have, so using it also adds a different dimension to the fish. Regular milk can also be excited by adding a dash of hot sauce to it (entirely up to you).
Yellow cornmeal is a godsend if you want to get the crunchy crust on the fish. To help the cornmeal coat the fish thoroughly, you can mix it with flour. These two ingredients will work to make the fish crunchy. But on its own, it can be bland, so it is essential to have it seasoned. The seasoning can be as basic as salt and pepper, or you can add other spices such as cajun spice, which pair well with white fish. Whatever spices you go with, make sure they do not overpower the delicate taste of the fish.
Side Dish Ideas
The first and most apparent side that goes well with fish is French fries, also known as chips, and hence the combination is affectionately known as fish and chips. Fish and chips are an age-old combination because the two go so well together. The softness of the potatoes goes well with the crunchiness of the fish and its soft fluffy interior. Also, this combination is an on-the-go recipe because it’s not only tasty, but it’s also not messy.
You can also serve the fish with coleslaw. It’s easy and fast. The creaminess of this cabbage salad adds an exciting dimension to the fried fish. It’s easy to make and refreshing. You will have your salad ready in about 5minutes depending on how fast you can shred the cabbage.
You can also serve air-fried catfish with hush puppies. When made right, they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. If you’re making them yourself, you can season them the way you like. The two textures compliment each other well.
Just like with French fries, mashed potatoes complement the crunchy exterior of the fried catfish. They are soft and yet creamy as well, especially when you mash them with butter or cream. They are also quick and easy to make in just 15minutes.
Mac and Cheese
If you’re looking for a more filling meal, mac and cheese will hit the spot. Mac and cheese pair well with fish, and the advantage that you have is that you can scoop up the leftover cheese sauce with a piece of fish. It doesn’t sound too sophisticated, but it’s an everyday guilty pleasure.
Time & Temperatures
To air-fry fish, set the air fryer to 400°F and fry it for 15 minutes. This should be sufficient time. However, continue to check on the fish to make sure that the fish is cooked correctly.
Tips for Crispy Air Fryer Catfish
For this recipe, fresh fish fillets work best. Who doesn’t like crispy fish? It’s the reason why we often fry the fish. But it’s also easy to get it wrong. One of the first things to do is make sure that the fish is dry before you fry it. You can do this by patting the fish dry. Also, make sure the air fryer is preheated correctly.
Another tip to employ is to spritz the fish with cooking spray. You already have it anyway since the air fryer will need to have been sprayed initially. Spritzing the fish will help give it a crispy look.
How to Make Air Fryer Catfish
To cook catfish in the air fryer, you will need the ingredients we listed above, as well as an air fryer. Then follow the following steps.
Ensure the fish is ready to be fried, which means you need to make sure that it is dry. You can do this by patting it dry. If it was frozen, make sure that it is thawed out properly before moving on to the next steps.
Soak the fish fillets in buttermilk. You can also use regular milk. The choice is yours, depending on what you want to achieve. Buttermilk has a tangy taste. At this stage, you may also add a dash of hot sauce if you like, and this will give more dimension to the entire recipe.
The next thing to do is to prepare the coating. Mix the cornmeal, flour, and seasoning of your choice. Then set these aside.
Then drain the fillets. Once the fish has sufficiently soaked in the buttermilk or regular milk, you can drain the excess milk and make sure the fish is dry and ready to be coated.
Spray the air fryer with cooking spray. And make sure that it has been preheated at 400˚F.
Then lay the fish in the tray, making sure that the basket is not overcrowded. You want to allow the hot air to circulate correctly, as this is what will fry the fish and not dip it in oil, as is the case when you fry it the usual way.
Cook the fish for about 15 minutes. Turn the fish over halfway through the process. This time is not a hard and fast rule. You need to check when the fish is ready. This means checking on it. If it’s not yet quite ready, you can increase the temperature or put it back in the fryer for longer.
Sides & Serving Ideas
Wondering what goes with catfish? The best dishes to serve with this mild seafood will bring out its slightly sweet flavors without overshadowing them. These are some of our favorite catfish sides:
- Beurre Blanc: This classic white wine sauce will give your fish a beautiful sheen and a beautiful buttery taste
- Garlic Butter Asparagus: This simple vegetable side just needs to be sautéed in minced garlic and melted butter for a few minutes
- Cornbread: For a taste of the American South, what better to serve up than cornbread? Its subtly sweet and salty taste will balance out the buttery flavor profile of the catfish perfectly.
Air Fryer Catfish
- 4 catfish fillets
- 4 tsp cajun spice seasoning
- ½ cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- ½ cup buttermilk
- Pour buttermilk and cajun seasoning into a large ziplock bag. Add fillets and shake to cover (you may need to use more than one bag). Leave in refrigerator to soak for 30 minutes.
- Preheat air fryer to 400°F (205°C).
- Remove fish from bags and lightly shake to remove excess buttermilk.
- Spray olive oil on the top of each fillets. Coat in yellow cornmeal, flour, and seasoning.
- Spray the fryer tray with cooking spray. Place the fillets in the air fryer basket, making sure there is enough space for air circulation. Close and cook for 15 minutes.