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The Taste Of Catfish- Everything You Need To Know

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

If you are anything like us, expanding your taste buds is fantastic, and if you are a seafood lover then, trying new fish can be the way to do this.

Some people might be a bit uncomfortable with the idea of eating catfish though.

The Taste Of Catfish- Everything You Need To Know

If you are unfamiliar with this fish, you may not know what it is or what it tastes like, so should you try it?

Well, catfish is a slightly sweet, moist, fish with a mild flavor that is less flaky than other white fish types.

Wild-caught catfish have a muddier and dirty taste, which comes from their stomachs. However, this fish absorbs seasonings put on it, to enhance flavor.

It does depend on what type of catfish you choose to eat, and how it was cleaned. All of this will influence the taste, as well as how you cook it.

It could be mild, but this is not always the case.

Therefore, let’s take the time to have an in-depth look at the taste of catfish!

What Are The Catfish Types & How Do They Taste?

How catfish taste is a topic that is still up for debate, some people enjoy the watery yet dense texture of catfish, but many do not like the slightly muddy flavor that it comes with.

There are also 2 catfish types, farmed or wild, and both are very different. So, in short, the flavor of catfish is primarily influenced by which type of catfish you choose to eat.

If you are not sure about whether a catfish is wild or farmed, you should always ask. We will take a look at these two types now, so you can distinguish which option will be best for you!

Wild Catfish & How It Tastes

Wild catfish are the kind that you would usually catch in a pond or a river. They have a very fishy taste that is also a bit muddy. This muddy taste tends to come from the middle.

Towards the end of the fish, it is normal to get a sweeter flavor of fish, which is the normal taste you would expect to get from catfish.

This muddy taste often comes from the stomach of the fish. Why? These fish are bottom feeders.

Catfish have poor eyesight, and they usually eat whatever is available, this can even include mud. This means that when you cut open a catfish, you can often notice a lot of dirt inside.

Oftentimes, this is why so many people are not interested in the taste of wild-caught catfish, as the muddy aspect of the taste is not pleasant.

Farmed Catfish & How It Tastes

You may find that some catfish that swim in cleaner waters will often have a much milder taste which is rather sweet. This is often the case with farmed catfish.

These catfish do not have any dirt or mud in them as the waters in which they live are much cleaner. These fish also benefit from having denser and more moist flesh when cooked as well.

If you are a fish lover, then eating farmed catfish can be compared to haddock, sole, tilapia, and other types of very common white fish.

If you replace other types of white fish with fresh catfish in most recipes, this can work very well.

Which Catfish Tastes The Best

The Taste Of Catfish- Everything You Need ToKnow

You may wonder which type of catfish is the most sought-after by fish lovers. Of all the catfish, flathead catfish are often the most desirable.

However, they can also be known as ‘shovel head’ catfish as well, as they have heads that are much flatter than most.

They also have their mouth at the ‘business end of their heads, which makes them much easier to tell apart from other catfish types.

The densities of a flathead are significantly lower than other catfish species, which makes the texture overall much less dense when it is cooked, this generally will improve the overall taste.

They can be less fishy in taste because of this as well, so are ideal for those who don’t like super fishy-tasting fish.

Also, the diet of these catfish can aid in their superior quality. Flathead catfish are actually hunters, and thus are unlike other catfish that will just eat anything.

These fish seek out their food, which means they will often eat other fish.

Most anglers who seek to capture a flathead fish are the only ones who can get this species of catfish.

The fish should always be well cleaned, done by removing the yellow fat inside of the meat, which will add to the flavor of the catfish improving overall.

Flathead catfish also tend to have a better taste than most other catfish because they tend to take longer to reach maturity.

More mature, larger catfish will not taste as good as smaller catfish as they tend to have more toxins in their meat.

You won’t be able to get this catfish in stores, only anglers who can them or those who search and seek out the white filets will have them.

Smaller Catfish Taste The Best, But Why?

The meat found on smaller catfish tends to be much fresher than that on larger catfish.

The fish is not as old and thus contains fewer toxins, which improves the flavor. This is similar to why people prefer lamb or veal.

Younger meat will often taste better, and this is no different when it comes to catfish.

A smaller catfish is often a more straightforward catch as well, as they have fewer feeding options as well.

Meaning they tend to swim for bait more often and are found in shallower water.

This is also beneficial as in shallow water such as in creeks, and river banks, there is less mercury than you would find in deep water, which increases the flavor quality.

The fish simply do not absorb as much mercury when they are in shallow waters.

Young catfish will have a neutral diet, with fresh, tender flesh, whereas older catfish will be big, have a varied diet, live in deep water, and will have more toxins in them from pollution and minerals in the water.

Some people may prefer certain types of catfish, but the best size for beautiful-tasting catfish is usually between 3 and 5 pounds.

If you want a fish fry then 7-8 lbs is the limit.

Making Catfish Taste Better

The Taste Of Catfish- Everything You NeedToKnow

Here are some top tips that you can make use of if you want to increase the taste of your catfish.

You Should Bleed Your Fish As Quickly As You Can

To do this, you should cut through the artery that you can find between the gills of the fish and place it on some ice.

Severing the artery can help you to get as much blood as you can out of the fish. You can also use pressure bleeding to help you force more blood from the small veins.

Try To Remove The Skin

The skin of the fish will hold a lot of the fishy tastes in it. If you do not like that taste then remove the skin, just get rid of it.

If you do like the skin, then use techniques to reduce the very fishy taste.

Choose Farmed, Clean Catfish

The best choice for good flavors is to get a clean and farmed catfish, as there will be less mud and less dirt, and if the yellow fat has been removed from the meat already, it is sure to taste even nicer! If you would rather clean it yourself, however, you can do this too!

Soak The Catfish In Milk

It may sound odd, but if you soak your catfish in milk products, such as buttermilk, it can take away that nasty fishy taste you may not like, and it will tenderize the meat of the fish as well.

You can easily soak it for 20 minutes then rinse the fish again afterward to get rid of any excess.


Make up a marinade that is composed of lemon juice, and vinegar, and it will help the fish to emit the fishy taste and smell, much like can happen with most other meats.

Only ½ an hour to 1 hour should be enough for this. Marinating also lets the fish take on the flavor too!

Spice Things Up!

Seasoning your catfish with some spices allows the absorption of the flavor given to mask or reduce the taste of the fishier aspects of the fish.

Of course, there are also plenty of herbs that can provide you with some additional flavor to any food.

These can boost its taste, but then again seasonings and spices can give anything a delicious flavor boost.

Try Soaking Your Fish In Baking Soda Water And Salt

Doing this can get rid of the fishy smell and taste of catfish, so if all you want is that aspect gone, this will do the trick

Use Your Grill

The Taste Of Catfish- EverythingYou NeedToKnow

Grilling catfish is one of the most ideal ways to cook this fish.

The smoke from using a grill will absorb into the fish, this masks quite a bit of the fishy taste.

Using mini coals in a foil or some liquid smoke will help if you are only able to cook with a gas grill.

Put The Fish On Ice

The final way you can influence the flavor of this fish would be to place the catfish on a bed of water or ice.

If you have enough ice this can make the fish shrink, forcing any of the fat out.

However, if you were to put salt with the ice, this will increase the coldness.

You will then see the fish releasing globules, which can be rinsed out. This whole process removes a great deal of the fishy taste and the fishy smell.

What Flavors Should You Pair Catfish With?

Catfish goes super well with so many different ingredients which can help to make it taste even better, or reduce and mask that fishy aroma, making it much more delicious.

If you enjoy cooking with spices, try some of these!

  • Black Pepper
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Chili Flakes
  • Garlic
  • Onion Powder
  • Paprika
  • Smoked Paprika

Spices can also easily change the taste of catfish into whatever you want it to taste like.

You can add a great deal of depth as you bring out the natural flavor, and mix it with others. This simply adds an overall tastiness to the dish.

Some herbs will also match with catfish well. Some of these include:

  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Thyme

Herbs will be able to add a unique aroma and some more flavor to your food. It is also very beneficial for those who wish to mask the aroma and flavor of fishiness.

While there is not a long list of condiments that will mix well with fish, there are two!

  • Dijon’s mustard
  • Mayonnaise

Dijon’s mustard and mayonnaise have a natural tanginess, which is great for fish. Consider how most will add a zest of lemon to their dishes.

Sauces like this can add a layer of tangy flavor that will improve the catfish taste and will mask the fishy taste and stench.

Some other things will work well with catfish, here are some ideas to take note of!

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Butter
  • Cornmeal
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Olive oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Vinegar

Butter and oils are essential ingredients often used for frying up fish.

However, butter and sesame oil, which are flavor-based will also absorb into the fish from the get-go, which will aid in flavor and succulence.

More citrus-based ingredients such as lime, lemon, and vinegar will help to balance out any seasonings you add, as well as minimize that fishy taste and odor.

Most people tend to enjoy catfish with seasoned cornmeal or breadcrumb coatings.

This gives the catfish a yummy taste when it is cooked with some added texture. This masks the density of the catfish meat and helps with flavor too!

If you eat catfish with condiments and side dishes, it can change the dish altogether, it alters the taste and lets you savor your meal even more.

You can forget where the fish even came from and that it may have eaten mud or even dirt!

How Does Catfish Taste When Cooked?

The Taste Of Catfish- EverythingYouNeedToKnow

You can fry, grill, or bake catfish, but no matter how you cook it, the taste will be pretty mild with a touch of sweetness.

It will also have a dense texture, and will likely be much less flaky than a majority of other white fish.

The fish will also adopt any flavors it is given, and the taste will alter based on how it is cooked and with what.

3 primary factors take part in the taste of catfish once cooked.

Catfish Types

As previously noted, farmed catfish will have a classic flavor that is mild and sweet, this is also achievable via wild-caught catfish that has been cleaned thoroughly, with yellow fat and blood taken out.

If you use a wild-caught catfish then cleaning it will, likely, there may still be a slightly muddy taste to it, however.

This is due to the habitat of the fish, and cannot be fully removed.

Farmed catfish always tastes better, while wild-caught catfish is much more likely to have a muddy taste unless you clean it well.

Prepping Your Catfish

Although the type of catfish you use matters, the preparation is just as key.

How you clean, soak, marinate, and so on, will all factor into the eventual taste. It also will decide upon whether you get a reduction in the fishy aroma or not.

It also additionally depends on just how much of the muddy taste you end up getting and whether the texture is excessively dense, or if it is not.

Seasoning A Catfish

Finally, how you marinate and season the catfish matters too! It can have an impact, improving the flavor, or simply altering it.

The mild sweetness of the fish is always there, however, adding some paprika, chili, butter, and lemon, will help to bring out the natural flavor.

This simply enhances the fish and gives it a major boost.

The catfish can absorb any seasoning that you put on it, so making sure that you add the right flavorings and spices can enhance the taste massively.

How To Cook A Catfish: Methods

The method you use to cook a catfish can also impact the end taste that you get.

Grilling will have a different effect than frying, although baking will also be different. While it will not be wildly different, it will be enough for you to notice!

It all depends on how you want the fish to end up tasting!

There are some methods, such as grilling, which will cause the fish to dry out.

Frying is also likely to add a seared outer layer, and you can notice that every technique will likely provide you with different textures, which in turn, affects the taste!


Different catfish types taste different, with wild-caught catfish having a muddy, dirty taste, but farmed catfish being milder.

Whichever you choose, there are plenty of techniques that you can use to improve the way that the catfish tastes, from proper cleaning practices to cooking techniques, seasoning, and other prep.

While its natural flavor is not necessarily anything to rave about, enhancing it with good cooking skills can make for a delicious dish!

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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