Catfish refers to a genus of over 3,000 species of both fresh and saltwater fish, most of which are bottom feeders. Many catfish grow to large sizes, and catching more than you can eat is not a difficult task. Cleaning and freezing catfish you cannot eat right away preserves their freshness for a later meal. While there are several methods, the fastest way to clean and freeze catfish is to skin them whole and remove their innards. This technique works best with small and medium catfish; large ones are difficult to cook whole.
Kill the Catfish
Hitting catfish on the head when you remove them from the water is common, but it does not always kill the fish. Catfish have thick skulls, and the strike often knocks them unconscious. Lay the catfish on a clean surface and use a knife to euthanize it quickly. Position the tip in the center of the catfish’s head, at the back of the gills. Drive it down, through the skull and into its brain.
Skin the Catfish
Peeling the skin off the catfish requires less than one minute once you master the technique. Use a sharp knife to make a 1/2-centimeter-deep cut behind the gills on one side. Continue the incision up, behind the fin on the top of its body behind the head and down the other side, connecting the line. Keep the line as close to the catfish’s head as possible. Peel the skin up slightly with the tip of the knife and grasp it firmly with a pair of pliers. Hold the catfish’s head in one hand and peel the skin off one side like a glove with the pliers. Repeat with the other side. Discard the skin.
Clean the Catfish
Make an incision on the underside of the fish from the gills to about halfway down its length. Do not cut deeply, as this might slice the innards and make them difficult to remove. Use your fingers to scoop out its innards and discard them. Rinse out the empty cavity with cool, clean water and pat the inside of the catfish dry with a paper towel or clean, lint-free cloth.
Freeze the Catfish
Use a sharp knife to cut off the catfish’s protruding fins, as they interfere with wrapping. Coat the skinned catfish tightly with plastic wrap to keep as much air out as possible. Use three to four layers to ensure it is protected. Place the wrapped catfish in the freezer and use it within six months for the best flavor. Allow the catfish to thaw in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours when you are ready to cook it. Place a plate beneath it to catch any juices that the catfish releases while it thaws.
Filleting Large Catfish
Follow the same steps to kill, skin and clean the catfish. Make a cut to the bone on one side, directly behind the head, with a sharp knife. Slide the knife sideways, cutting toward the tail, and grab the meat with your fingers. Pull the meat away from the body and slide the knife down to the tail, keeping it close to the bones. Repeat the process on the other side of the catfish. These are the catfish fillets. If you leave bits of meat on the carcass, you can freeze it and boil it in water later to make fish stock. Wrap the fillets, and carcass if you keep it, separately in plastic wrap before freezing.
Serena Styles is a Colorado-based writer who specializes in health, fitness and food. Speaking three languages and working on a fourth, Styles is pursuing a Bachelor's in Linguistics and preparing to travel the world. When Styles isn't writing, she can be found hiking, cooking or working as a certified nutritionist.