These Southern-style Air Fryer Catfish fillets are so simple to make, with a crispy breading made of cornmeal and breadcrumbs. We soak the catfish in buttermilk for a nice, clean flavor before breading and then air fry to perfection!
We have a few fishermen in our family, which means we do a few big fish fries throughout the year. Always fun and always delicious!
But when Chad catches just a few fish from our pond, I’m not usually all that interested in deep-frying them. As usual, the air fryer saves the day!
Catfish is one of those fish that people either love or hate. It can be a bit muddy tasting if you don’t cook it right, but we’ve cracked the code here. Just soak your catfish in buttermilk and it’ll sweeten up the fish and make it a lot more mild and just plain better tasting than catfish that hasn’t been soaked in buttermilk. Easy peasy!
This air fryer salmon will also become a favorite!
Catfish Fillets- Fresh fillets are the way to go. Ideally, your one pound of fillets will be two to four separate fillets. If you buy frozen, just be sure to thaw them first.
Buttermilk- Buttermilk helps ‘wash away’ the muddy flavor of the catfish and makes for a sweeter, more mild flavored fish. This is a must.
Cajun Seasoning- We use Tony Chachere’s seasoning blend. It’s quite salty, so we don’t add additional salt. If you’re using another blend of Cajun seasoning, you may need to add salt. Mix together the batter and taste it for seasoning before breading the fish.
Breading – Breadcrumbs, cornmeal, flour, and garlic powder make up our breading. If you don’t want to make your own breading, see our tips and substitutions section below.
How to Make Catfish in an Air Fryer:
Soak the fillets- Whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce in a bowl and add the catfish filets. Let soak for 20 minutes. Then remove fish from the buttermilk and lightly pat dry.
Bread the catfish- Add your breadcrumbs, cornmeal, flour, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, and salt to a shallow dish, such as a pie plate and stir to combine. Next, dip your catfish fillets into the breading mixture and press firmly into the breading to fully coat the fillets.
Air fry the catfish- Spritz your air fryer basket with oil spray and add your fillets in a single layer to the basket. Spritz the fish with oil spray liberally. Air fry for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F, flip and cook for 10 more minutes. The fish should be crispy and easily flake with a fork when done cooking.
The milk soak is far more important for catfish than other types of fish. Catfish are what fishermen call “bottom feeders”. They eat almost anything, and most of what they eat is extracted from the mud. This makes their fillets flakier than other types of fish, but also makes them taste a bit muddy. The buttermilk will get rid of that taste and make for a sweeter and more mild flavored fish.
Be sure to bread the catfish fillets fully and spritz them liberally with oil spray. Leave space between each fillet for air to flow. These tricks should make for a nice, crispy bready.
We like to serve our air fryer catfish with lemon wedges and this homemade tartar sauce.
Recipe tips and substitutions:
Store-bought catfish fillets are less likely to have that muddy taste of fresh caught catfish, because it’s been farmed and likely fed a special diet. Wild catfish feed off the bottom of lakes and ponds, which is where that ‘muddy’ flavor comes from. Soaking farmed catfish in buttermilk may not be necessary, but it also won’t hurt anything.
In a hurry? We also like Louisiana or Andy’s fish breading in place of our breading recipe. You’ll need around 1 cup. My personal favorite is to take a 1/2 cup each of Andy’s Red Seasoning and Andy’s Golden Seasoning and mix them together.
Our last big tip is in flipping the fish. Flipping the fish can be a bit tricky. You’ll want a thin, flexible spatula to make the job easier. Alternately, you can skip flipping the fish, but the underside won’t be quite as crispy.
Air Fryer Catfish Fillets
- 1 pound catfish fillets
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- ½ cup cornmeal
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning blend see notes
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt to taste
- Oil spray
- Whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce in a bowl and add the catfish. Let soak for 20 minutes.
- Remove fish from the buttermilk and lightly pat dry.
- Add the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, flour, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, and salt to a shallow dish, such as a pie plate. Stir to combine.
- Dip the catfish fillets in the breading mixture, pressing firmly to adhere the breading to the fish.
- Spritz air fryer basket with oil spray and add the fish in a single layer without crowding the basket. You may need to work in batches. Spritz fish liberally with oil spray.
- Air fry at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Flip and continue cooking for 10 minutes more or until the fish is crispy and easily flakes with a fork.