These breaded Catfish Nuggets are a Southern classic that can be baked or made in the air fryer. Indulge in tender and flaky fish fillets coated in a flavorful blend of herbs and spices. These have the perfect balance of a crispy, golden crust, with a moist, succulent center.
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What are Catfish Nuggets
They are small pieces of catfish meat that are typically cut into bite-sized chunks or strips. They are commonly used in recipes and dishes where smaller, more manageable pieces of catfish are desired. The nuggets are usually boneless and are often breaded or seasoned before cooking to add flavor and create a crispy or flavorful coating.
How to Slice and Cut
My grocery stores typically carry catfish nuggets that are already cut into shape. You can buy catfish and slice them into nuggets if you wish. You can slice them into 2-inch pieces, just be sure to keep them evenly sized so they cook at an even and consistent temperature.
How to Season and Add Breading
I love to use my Homemade Fish Fry Breading recipe. It’s a mixture of ingredients used to coat fish before frying, giving it a crispy and flavorful crust. Feel free to use a store-bought breading if you wish.
Breaded fish has benefits:
- Crispy Texture: The breading creates a crispy and crunchy exterior that contrasts with the tender and moist fish inside. It adds an enjoyable texture to the dish.
- Flavor Enhancement: The seasonings in the breading mixture add flavor to the fish. The combination of salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and other spices enhances the natural taste of the fish and provides a well-rounded flavor profile.
- Moisture Retention: The breading helps to seal in the moisture of the fish during the cooking process. It forms a protective barrier that prevents the fish from drying out and helps maintain its juiciness.
- Golden Crust: Breading gives the fish a mouth-watering golden-brown crust.
Buttermilk works great for providing amazing breading in this recipe.
- Tenderizing: Buttermilk contains lactic acid, which helps break down the proteins and muscle fibers in the catfish, resulting in a more tender and moist texture.
- Flavor: It adds a subtle tangy flavor to the fish, which complements the savory taste.
- Moisture retention: The buttermilk helps to lock in moisture during the cooking process, preventing the nuggets from drying out. This results in juicy and succulent fish.
- Coating adhesion: Buttermilk acts as a binder, allowing the breading mixture to stick better to the fish. This helps create a crispy and well-adhered crust when the nuggets are cooked.
How to Make Catfish Nuggets
Full detailed instructions are below in the recipe card.
- Drizzle the catfish with the buttermilk and ensure the fish is fully coated.
- Combine the cornmeal, flour, and spices and coat each piece of fish in the fish fry breading.
- Bake or air fry.
How to Tell When They Are Done Cooking
- The nuggets should turn opaque and become white or off-white in color when cooked. The flesh should no longer appear translucent or raw.
- Gently insert a fork or a small knife into the thickest part of a nugget and twist it slightly. If the flesh easily flakes apart and is no longer raw or translucent in the center, it is likely cooked through. The texture should be tender and moist, but not mushy.
- Use a meat thermometer and check the internal temperature of the catfish nuggets. The USDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
Additional Flavor Substitutions
- Cajun Spice: Create a flavorful kick by adding Cajun seasoning to the breading mixture. It typically contains a blend of spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and herbs.
- Lemon Pepper: Incorporate the bright and zesty flavors of lemon and black pepper.
- Garlic and Herb: Mix in garlic powder, dried herbs such as thyme, oregano, and parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper to give the nuggets a savory boost of flavor.
- Smoky Chipotle: I use smoked paprika in the recipe to add a smoky and spicy element.
- Parmesan and Herb: Combine grated Parmesan cheese with dried herbs like basil, oregano, and parsley. The Parmesan adds a savory, nutty flavor while the herbs provide freshness.
- Old Bay Seasoning: This is a seafood classic and staple. It contains a blend of spices like celery salt, paprika, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, which pairs well with catfish.
How to Store Leftovers
Leftovers can be stored tightly covered and sealed in the fridge for 3-4 days.
How to Reheat
I avoid the microwave because you risk overcooking. Here are the best methods:
- Oven: Reheat at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until heated through and warm.
- Air Fryer: Reheat at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes or until crispy and warm.
- Stovetop: Preheat a skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of butter or oil. Place the catfish nuggets in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until heated through and crispy.
You can freeze cooked nuggets tightly sealed for up to 2-3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and reheat following the directions above.
Can You Make Them Without Breading
Yes! Simply omit the cornmeal and flour.
Pair With These Recipes
More Fish Recipes
- 1 1/2-2 pounds catfish nuggets
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
Homemade Fish Fry Breading (Alternatively, you can use a store bought fish fry breading)
- Drizzle the catfish with the buttermilk and ensure the fish is fully coated.
- Combine the cornmeal, flour, and spices to create a breading. Coat each piece of buttermilk drenched fish in the fish fry breading.
Oven Baked Instructions
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place the breaded catfish on the parchment paper. Spritz the catfish with cooking oil.If you see white areas in the breading, spritz them with oil to ensure the breading adheres.
- Bake for 17-20 minutes or until the flesh easily flakes apart and is no longer raw or translucent in the center, it is likely cooked through.
- Cool before serving.
Air Fryer Instructions
- Spray the air fryer basket with cooking oil.
- Place the breaded catfish in the air fryer basket. Spritz the catfish with cooking oil.If you see white areas in the breading, spritz them with oil to ensure the breading adheres.
- Air fry for 8-13 minutes at 400 degrees or until the flesh easily flakes apart and is no longer raw or translucent in the center, it is likely cooked through. Flip halfway through. It's important to note that buttermilk will produce really tender fish. Avoid handling the fish with metal tongs. Be gentle when flipping the fish and handling it. I use a spatula. You will lose breading if you are too rough.
- Cool before serving. Allow the fish to cool before removing it from the air fryer basket. You will risk losing the breading if you don't allow the fish to properly cool.
- The amount of fish breading you will need will vary based on how much fish you use and the size of your fish fillets.
- Ensure your nuggets are equally sized to prevent some nuggets from cooking faster than others.
- When making your own spice blend you should always make it to suit your taste. If it’s your first time, cut the spices noted in the recipe in half. Taste the blend (you will have to do so before mixing it with flour), and then build and add more to suit your taste. You can always add additional spices in, but once you have added something, it’s much harder to walk that back.
- You can use a store-bought fish fry breading if you wish.
- You can omit the buttermilk with no adjustment to cooking time.
- If you followed the steps above and still have issues with your breading adhering to the fish, allow the raw/breaded fish to rest prior to cooking. Place the breaded fish fillets on a baking sheet or plate and let them rest for about 10-15 minutes. This resting period allows the breading to set and adhere.