Southern Fried Catfish is a staple in every Southern kitchen. You can’t beat freshly caught catfish filets, dredged in perfectly seasoned cornmeal breading and fried until the inside is perfectly tender and the outside is a crisp, golden brown.
Combine the wet ingredients in a large bowl - whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and hot sauce together.
Now, soak the catfish fillets in the egg mixture. Make sure the fillets are fully coated. Let that sit while you mix up the dry ingredients.
In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients - flour, cornmeal, salt, paprika, pepper, and lemon pepper. (And cayenne if you are using it.)
Mix well to ensure an even distribution of seasoning.
Now, dredge the soaked fillets in the cornmeal mixture and make sure they are fully coated. Shake off any excess breading.
Place the fillets on a plate and cover. Let them sit in the refrigerator for 10 - 15 minutes while you heat your oil - this will help the breading stick to the fish.
Heat your oil properly. Make sure your oil is hot enough before putting your fish into it. If you do not have a thermometer that you can use in oil, another way to test that oil is hot is by flicking a drop of water into it. If the oil spits and sputters back at you, the oil should be hot enough. If nothing happens, give it some more time. If the oil is cold, the fish will soak up a ton of oil and just get really soggy and greasy. If you put your fish in and you realize that the oil is too cold, you can still save it - take it out right away and wait for the oil to heat up. The flip side of this is if your oil is too hot, the outside of the fish will burn before the inside has a chance to cook. (You can generally smell when oil is burning.)
Do not overcrowd your oil. If you put too much in the oil, it will start to cool down and the fish will get soggy. If you can't fit all of your fish in at once - be patient and fry it in batches. (If you have to fry a lot of fish, place a cookie sheet in the oven over a baking sheet and turn the oven onto a "warm" or super, super, super low setting and keep the fish in there. This will help it stay warm and crispy.)
Use a wire rack. Instead of draining grease off of your fish onto a paper bag or a towel, place it on a rack as you would use for cooling cookies. (With the paper or a towel underneath to catch drippings.) The fish will cook a little longer as the oil drips off and will get nice and crispy.
Use fresh fish. Make sure that your fish is not old - if it smells off at all, be cautious eating it. Catfish smells a little fishy, but should not have a very strong odor.