‘Top Chef’ Champion Kelsey Barnard Clark’s Recipe for Prize-Winning Fried Catfish

2 mins read

The chef behind KBC in Alabama shares her recipe for cornmeal-crusted catfish.

When Kelsey Barnard Clark took the title of Top Chef in season 16 of the reality cooking competition, she became the first Southerner to wear the crown. Alabama born and raised, she cut her teeth by leaving to work for great chefs like Gavin Kaysen and John Fraser, only to return to the South to pursue her career aspirations at home. She combined that acquired technique with the cooking she grew up on for her restaurant KBC in Dothan, Ala. Now, with her debut book, she’s imparting that wisdom to home cooks. In Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook, she breaks out recipes so you’re covered from happy hour through your dinner party to weekday dinner to biscuits for breakfast. The chef has shared with Robb Report readers how to create the centerpiece of a late-summer fish fry, with her cornmeal-crusted catfish recipe.

I love to fish, and catfish is so easy and enjoyable to catch. You gotta love a hobby where you sit in a chair, holding an ice-cold beer in one hand and a fishin’ pole in the other. There are a million ways to eat the flaky, mild meat of catfish, but my all-time favorite is a fish fry. It’s a social gathering where everyone is invited to join in on the prep. This catfish is delicious with Birthday Pickled Salad (page 86) and this cool, refreshing Green Goddess Dressing. Invite some friends over and try this one ASAP!


Cornmeal Catfish with Green Goddess Dressing

4 to 6 servings

  • 5 c. buttermilk
  • 1 c. dill pickle juice
  • 8 to 10 dashes Crystal hot sauce
  • 3 lb. catfish, cut into 6 oz. fillets, skin removed, cleaned, and patted dry
  • Canola oil, for frying (8 to 10 c.)
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. fine ground cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 tbsp. celery salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Green Goddess Dressing (recipe follows)

In a flat dish or pan or in a large ziplock bag, com­bine the buttermilk, pickle juice, and hot sauce. Brine the catfish in the mixture for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Fill a deep pot or fryer halfway with the oil and heat to 350° F. Set a cooling rack in a tray or line a plate with paper towels. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, garlic and onion powders, celery salt, black pepper, and cayenne until combined. Dredge the catfish.

Deep fry the fish for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the fish is golden brown and crispy. Place on the prepared rack or paper towels to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle with salt and enjoy immediately with a side of Green Goddess Dressing for dipping.

Green Goddess Dressing

Makes 2 cups of dressing

  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • ½ c. chopped onion
  • ½ c. chopped cucumber
  • ½ ripe avocado
  • ¼ c. fresh parsley
  • ¼ c. fresh dill fronds
  • ¼ c. fresh cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp celery salt
  • ¼ c. canola or grapeseed oil
  • Salt

Combine everything except the oil and salt in a food processor. While processing, slowly add the oil until the dressing is smooth. Season with salt. Enjoy imme­diately or keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Excerpted with permission from Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook (Chronicle Books, 2021) by Kelsey Barnard Clark. Text copyright © 2021 by Kelsey Barnard Clark. Photographs by Antonis Achilleos.