I've never had a problem firing up the fryer for a weeknight meal, especially when catfish is involved. But even I realize that it can be a pain. On the other hand, this baked version from Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen couldn't be easier. After a dip in whisked eggs, the fillets are coated in a mixture of cracker crumbs and fresh pecans, before some melted butter is brushed on. Then all you have to do is bake them for 10 to 15 minutes—no pot of oil needed.
While the crust might not get as gloriously golden and crisp as some fried versions, baking does do a great job at evenly cooking the fish. Each fillet came out of the oven spot on. Plus, what it may be lacking in actual crispness, the crust makes up for in the flavor department. I especially loved the pecans—they lend a nice depth to each bite.
- 1/2 cup fine cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
- 3 large lemons
- 1 rounded tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- black pepper
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 4 medium catfish fillets (about 6-ounces each)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Adjust the oven rack to the upper middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the cracker crumbs and chopped pecans. Zest one of the lemons and add it in, along with the fresh sage. Add a healthy helping of freshly ground black pepper. Stir well. On a large plate, add the flour and spread it out evenly. In another large bowl, crack in the eggs and add the juice of 1/2 lemon. Whisk until just combined. Butter a rimmed cookie sheet.
Dry the fish fillets, and then season each side with salt. Take one fillet and roll it in the flour to coat evenly, and then shake off any excess. Dip the fillet into the egg mixture, and then hold it over the bowl to let the excess egg drip back in. Then add the fillet to the cracker and pecan mixture, and roll into evenly coated. Transfer fillet to the buttered pan. Repeat process with remaining fillets. When done coating all of them, set them aside for 15 minutes before cooking.
Brush the fish fillets with the melted butter, and then transfer the sheet to the upper oven rack. Cook until the fish is cooked and the top is browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the remaining lemons into wedges.
When done, serve fish immediately with the lemon wedges. Broccoli goes especially well as a side.