Todd Richards’s Spicy Fried Catfish with Tails

Seasoned, breaded, and beloved

Photograph by Greg Dupree

Todd Richards, executive chef at the Shed at Glenwood, grew up in Chicago, but reminders of his Southern roots were as close as the kitchen table—especially on Friday nights. That’s when his extended family would gather for a catfish fry, a custom of kin scattered around the Carolinas and Arkansas, where Richards spent many summer vacations. The catfish, whether store-bought or fresh-caught, was always fried bone-in and cut in segments, with tails intact. The prized end bits were specifically reserved for his grandfather, who ate the tails like potato chips. “After Granddad passed, I snuck to the head of the line in the hierarchy to get the tails,” says Richards, frying a batch in his Grant Park home. And even today, “that’s the piece I go for first.” If you’ve never eaten a catfish tail, they can be surprisingly addictive. If you buy your fish from an extensive market like Your DeKalb Farmers Market, consider asking for a bag of leftover tails and fry a whole batch for snacking.

2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon white pepper

Seasoned breading:
2 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon celery salt

3 1/2 to 4 pounds cleaned, bone-in catfish (the smaller the better), head removed but with tails attached, the body cut crosswise in 3- or 4-inch pieces
1 1/2 quarts cooking oil for frying

Cocktail sauce:
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons chili sauce
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
Pinch of black pepper

1. Mix together marinade ingredients. Place catfish pieces in a large Ziploc bag; pour marinade over them and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours. Mix together breading ingredients. Combine ingredients for cocktail sauce and set aside.

2. In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil to 325 degrees. Place breading mixture in a shallow dish. Remove catfish pieces from the bag and dredge in breading, shaking off the excess, then place in hot oil. (Fry in batches; avoid crowding the skillet.) Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes per batch over medium heat, turning halfway through, until flesh flakes easily with a fork and crust is a deep golden brown. Drain catfish pieces on a paper towel–lined platter and let them rest for 3 to 4 minutes before serving with cocktail sauce.

Serves 4 to 6 people.

This recipe originally appeared in our February 2013 issue.