My earliest memories of fried catfish were at our annual family reunion. Every year, my family would all meet up with all our relatives in Charleston, Mississippi, to celebrate my Big Mama's birthday. The celebration was kicked off the Friday before Labor Day with a huge fish fry. Big cast-iron pots full of bubbling hot lard would be filled with catfish, brim, perch, buffalo and french fries. We would eat the piping hot fish on slices of white bread with hot pepper sauce and mustard.
Technique tip: Use a thermometer to make sure your oil is the proper temperature.
Swap option: Use vegetable oil in place of lard.
Special equipment: A cast-iron skillet is a must!
Heat lard in a large cast-iron pot, over medium-high heat, until hot (350 F-375 F).2.
While lard is heating, combine the cornmeal, 3 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of pepper, garlic powder and paprika in a very large bowl. Set aside.3.
Season fish with remaining tablespoon of salt and pepper.4.
Place the seasoned fish in the bowl of seasoned cornmeal mixture; roll to totally coat the fish with cornmeal.5.
Fry the fish in 2 or 3 batches. The fish should be totally submerged in the hot lard while frying. Carefully place the fish into a pot of hot lard and cook until the fillets float, about 6to 8 minutes. If you are frying small whole fish, fry until the fish pulls away from the bone at the thickest point, about 12 minutes.6.
Remove and drain on a paper towel-lined baking pan. Serve piping hot.