Grocery Guides

Catfish – All You Need to Know | Instacart’s Guide to Groceries



Last Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Catfish has been an important food source for centuries. Wild-caught or farmed, catfish is a beneficial, lean protein welcome in any healthful eating regime. Read on for facts and tips on how to select the best catfish.

What is catfish?

Catfish get their name from their prominent barbels, which look like cats’ whiskers. Most catfish are bottom-feeding fish and use these whiskers, or barbels, to feel for food along the riverbed or ocean floor. Catfish are usually negatively buoyant. In other words, they will sink rather than float in the water. This is due to a heavy, bony head and a smaller gas bladder. Unlike most other fish, catfish do not have scales. 

Some species have bony plates called scutes covering their skin.

Where did catfish originate from?

The various species of catfish originate in different parts of the world. Catfish live inland or in coastal waters worldwide. The three most sought after species in the United States are:

At least one of these species can be found in almost any river, lake, or reservoir in the United States.

What is the nutritional value of catfish?

Catfish is a good source of lean protein. It is packed with healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. A three-and-a-half-ounce portion of catfish contains:

  • 105 calories
  • 2.9 grams fat
  • 18 grams protein
  • 50 mg sodium
  • 337 mg omega-6 fatty acids
  • 237 mg omega-3 fatty acids

Catfish also contains vitamin B12, vitamin B1, selenium, phosphorous, and potassium.

Where do catfish come from?

Like other fish, catfish can be caught in the wild. However, most of the world’s dietary catfish supply comes from fish farming or aquaculture. Aquaculture is the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish in a controlled water environment. Freshwater aquaculture takes place in large ponds, tanks, or submerged cages.

When is catfish in season?

In the United States, catfish is available throughout the year. If you want to catch your own catfish, you can catch these bottom feeders at any time of the year. Although, during spawning season, it is a little trickier to catch them. Catfish spawning season is from the end of spring to the middle of summer.

What should I look for when buying catfish?

Eating bad fish can lead to scombroid or ciguatera poisoning. It is essential to know what to look for when purchasing fresh whole catfish:

  • Check that the eyes are clear, wet, plump, and shiny. There should be no sunken areas.
  • The dorsal and tail fins should be wet, intact, and look healthy.
  • The flesh of the fish should be firm to the touch and bounce back when you press on it.
  • The flesh should feel cold, wet, and slippery.
  • If possible, check the color of the gills. Bright red gills are a sign of a freshly caught fish.

If you want to buy catfish fillets, here are some pointers to help you choose the freshest fillet.

  • There should be no cracks or breaks between the muscles and collagen sheaths in the fillet.
  • The flesh should be wet and shiny. Incorrectly stored or mishandled fish will be dry, chalky, or sticky.
  • Like cod or halibut, fresh catfish meat is white to off-white. There may be pinkish tones. The flesh should be clear and shiny.

Remember that you can share these tips with your Instacart shopper. When you place your order, place a few tips on choosing perfect catfish fillets to your form. 

How to store catfish

Fresh catfish must be kept refrigerated at all times. Depending on how fresh catfish is when you purchase it, it should keep in the refrigerator for one to two days. To maximize freshness, store fresh catfish, unopened, in its original packaging.

You can extend the shelf life by storing catfish in the freezer. Place the fish in the freezer before it reaches its expiry date. It should retain its fresh quality for six to eight months.

Cooked catfish will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days. Stored in the freezer, cooked catfish will keep for up to four months.

How do I cook catfish?

In the United States, the most common way to prepare catfish is deep-fried with a cornmeal crumb-coat. You can also grill, bake, or pan-fry your catfish.

  1. Make a basting sauce using melted butter, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Place your catfish steaks on a wire rack and brush with the mixture. Grill the fish for about six to eight minutes a side, depending on how hot your grill is.  
  2. For baked catfish, place your catfish fillets in a greased oven tray and pour over a cup of white wine, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Bake the fillets for ten to twelve minutes at 375°F.
  3. You can pan-fry your catfish fillets with or without a crumb. Season the fillets with salt, paprika, and pepper. Fry in the pan for three minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fillets.

How to tell if catfish is bad

Catfish that have gone bad will have an unpleasant, sour smell. The color of the flesh will be dull and opaque and perhaps be slimy to the touch.

What can I substitute for catfish?

If you can not find fresh catfish, you can order frozen catfish instead. If catfish is not available at all, tilapia is the perfect substitute for catfish. Being a freshwater fish, it will have a very similar flavor profile to catfish. In addition, the flakiness and medium to firm texture are also in line with what you can expect from catfish. Most mild, white fish will work as catfish substitutes:

  • Swai (Vietnamese catfish) is another freshwater fish that can serve as a suitable substitute if you can not find catfish.
  • Flounder
  • Cod
  • Haddock

Order your catfish online for same-day delivery

Whether you want to barbecue whole catfish or fry up catfish steaks in the pan, you can order online with Instacart. Select fresh fish from local, regional, and national retailers near you. An Instacart shopper will prepare your order for in-store pickup, or you can opt for same-day contactless delivery.



Instacart is the leading online grocery platform in North America, partnering with more than 700 beloved national, regional and local retailers, including unique brand names, to deliver from more than 65,000 stores across more than 5,500 cities in North America. To read more Instacart posts, you can browse the company blog or search by keyword using the search bar at the top of the page.

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