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Thai Spicy Catfish Recipe With Red Curry Paste

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Thai spicy catfish recipe with red curry paste, deep-fried to perfection and tossed in a wok with Thai seasonings and spices. Pair this recipe with freshly steamed white rice for a complete and fulfilling dinner.

Thai spicy catfish garnished with fiery red chilies on a white plate, served next to sticky rice in a traditional bamboo container.

What is Thai spicy catfish

Thai spicy catfish, also known as pad ped pla duk, is a pungent dish featuring deep-fried catfish with red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves. Typically served with rice, it delivers a medley of authentic, robust flavors.

Thai catfish recipe

This is hands-down one of the best fried catfish recipes you’ll stumble upon. Plus, it’s so simple, you could perfectly add it to your quick and easy weeknight dinner collection.

Close-up of spicy Thai catfish in a spicy red sauce, topped with red chilies and fresh herbs.

Spicy deep-fried fish with red curry paste is one of my personal favorites. Crispy edges with tender fish meat – full of bold flavors and so darn good.

Fish might not be everyone’s go-to, but Thai fish recipes are definitely my favorites.

Speaking of, this spicy Thai crispy fish with tamarind sauce is our all-time fave!

Juicy chunks of tender catfish, sliced open to reveal its white flesh, soaked in a rich and spicy sauce with red chilies.

Have I mentioned that making this recipe is a breeze? The “hardest” part is deep-frying the catfish – which isn’t hard at all.

After that, it’s just a quick wok and toss with red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, palm sugar, and spicy chilies before adding the fish to the pan.

5 Reasons to try this recipe

  • Restaurant-quality: Ditch the takeout; this is the real deal – this fish dish is something you could get at an authentic Thai restaurant, and now you can make it at home.
  • High in protein: This dish is as nutritious as it is delicious.
  • Bold flavors: A blend of sweet, salty, and spicy embraces the fried catfish, making each bite so flavorful.
  • Versatile: Whole fried catfish or fried catfish fillets, there’s no going wrong here.
  • Quick: From pan to plate, a total of less than 30 minutes.

Pad ped pla duk

In Thailand, we call this dish pad ped pla duk or pad ped pla dook.

“Pad ped” translates to “spicy stir-fry”, and “pla duk” is Thai for “catfish”.

Live catfish swimming around in buckets or large tubs are no rare sight at food markets in Thailand, particularly in the Northeast.

They’re typically smaller than those you’d find in the US and Europe.

Catfish is a common catch in the rural areas, it’s affordable and available to all Thai people. Pla duk is extremely popular in my rural village, but the love for pla duk reaches far beyond the borders of Isan into Southeast Asia.

Ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.


Top-view of recipe ingredients: raw catfish cuts, red chilies, kaffir lime leaves, red curry paste, palm sugar, oil, and fish sauce on a banana leaf.
  • Catfish – I used whole catfish for authentic Thai flavor and texture. If you’re not looking forward to dealing with a whole fish, catfish fillets are a great alternative. In a traditional Thai catfish recipe, the fish is simply deep-fried without a batter. However, if you’d like to give the fillets a crispy texture, a light coating of rice flour or cornstarch adds a layer of crispiness.
  • Thai red curry paste – Red curry paste is a pounded blend of red chilies, lemongrass, garlic, and more Thai herbs and spices. For the best results, use my homemade paste. For a good store-bought alternative, I suggest opting for the Mae Ploy or Maesri brand.
  • Fish sauce – A key ingredient in Thai cuisine for its salty, umami flavors that’s simply irreplaceable.
  • Palm sugar – Palm sugar adds a caramel-like sweetness, balancing the spicy and salty flavors.
  • Kaffir lime leaves – Also known as makrut leaves, they add a refreshing flavor that elevates the entire dish. Finely shred or chop them. If possible, use fresh leaves.
  • Chilies – Adjust the quantity based on your spice level. I go by the motto – the spicier, the better! I used Thai chilies, but you can opt for a milder type of chili peppers if you wish, or remove the seeds for a mild spiciness.
  • Water – A bit of water is needed to meld the flavors together in a sauce.

How to make spicy Thai catfish

Prepare the catfish

Four-step process showing how to clean catfish: Gutting the catfish, slicing the catfish into segments, coating the catfish in cornstarch, rinsing the floured fish pieces in water.

1: Clean and gut the catfish. Make a cut on the belly and use your fingers to get the fish guts out. Give the inside a good rinse.

2: Slice into segments. Lay the fish on a chopping board and cut it info even segments.

3: Remove the slimy layer. Massage the pieces with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and half a tablespoon of salt, making sure each piece is well-coated.

4: Wash the pieces. Transfer the catfish to a bowl of cold water. Rub them and rinse under running water.

Deep-fry catfish

Top image showing catfish in bubbling oil, and bottom image showing golden-brown fried catfish chunks in a colander.

1: Deep-fry. In a large pan, heat enough oil to submerge the fish pieces over medium-low heat. Once hot, deep-fry the catfish, flipping them occasionally.

2: Let excess oil leak. After approx 10 minutes, when the catfish turns golden with a crispy texture, remove from pan and transfer to a colander to let excess oil drip off.

Stir-fry the catfish

Instructional steps for spicy stir-fried catfish with red curry in a wok pan.

1: Fry red curry paste. Heat oil in a large wok pan or skillet over medium heat. Toss in the red curry paste and stir it until aromatic or 10–20 seconds.

2: Add flavors. Stir in water, palm sugar, fish sauce, chilies, and kaffir lime leaves.

3: Cook until sugar dissolves. Make sure all the seasonings are well mixed, and cook until the sugar dissolves.

4: Add the catfish.

5: Thoroughly coat each piece with spicy sauce and serve immediately.

Recipe tips and tricks

  • Don’t skip the deep-frying: It gives the catfish a delicious crispy texture, while the stir-frying infuses the fish with spicy, sweet, and salty flavors.
  • Fish alternatives: If you’re no catfish fan, you can use any firm white fish like tilapia, halibut, sea baas, or cod.
  • Oil temperature: Preheat your oil to around 350°F or 175°C before deep-frying the catfish. With cold oil, the fish will become greasy; too hot and it’ll burn.
  • Drain excess oil: After deep-frying, place the fish on a wire rack or paper towels to let excess oil drip away.
  • Taste as you go: Thai cooking is all about taste-testing as you cook. There’s never one recipe that suits all. Keep tasting as you cook and adjust seasonings where needed. Never serve Thai food before tasting!

Kitchen tools

  • Granite mortar and pestle or food processor: If you’re making the red curry paste from scratch, you’ll need one of either.
  • Deep frying pan and non-stick wok pan
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Wire rack or paper towels
  • Spatula

How to serve

Serve your spicy stir-fried catfish with a portion of steamed jasmine rice. The mildness of the rice complements the spicy flavors.

Optional garnishes

  • Kaffir lime leaves: Strips of kaffir lime leaves can be sprinkled on top for a pop of color.
  • Fresh vegetables: Garnish your dish with fresh vegetables like cucumber slices.
  • Red chilies: Garnish with slices of red chilies
  • Lime: Add a lime wedge to add a sour flavor to taste.

Recommended side dishes

Thai people rarely cook just one meal, we enjoy eating Thai food with other side-dishes.

  • Thai vegetables stir-fry – Add some nutrition with these healthy stir-fried greens.
  • Tod mun pla – A great appetizer or accompaniment for this spicy fried catfish recipe.
  • Som tum Thai – A refreshing, crunchy salad makes a great side.

How to store

Let your leftovers cool down, place them in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. They should remain fresh for up to 3 days.

Reheating instructions: Simply reheat the leftovers in a skillet or wok over medium heat. Add a splash of oil if needed. Avoid using the microwave.

Fun facts

  • Pad ped pla duk is especially popular in the Northeast of Thailand, Isan.
  • Isan food is characterized by super flavorful dishes with locally-sourced ingredients. This recipe is the perfect example. It packs a punch and catfish is often caught in rice fields and freshwater ponds in the rural areas.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s)

What does fried catfish taste like?

Fried catfish is deliciously crispy on the outside, while the inside is tender and flaky. Catfish meat has a mild, fishy, and slightly sweet taste.

What goes good with fried catfish?

Fried catfish can be paired with a variety of side dishes. Steamed jasmine rice is a great option, but you can also consider pairing it with a healthy salad or fresh vegetables.

Is this recipe gluten-free?

To enjoy this recipe gluten-free, simply check the labeling of the seasonings and red curry paste for gluten-free. My homemade red curry paste is gluten-free.

What oil is best for frying catfish?

For frying catfish, it’s ideal to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point like canola oil, vegetable oil, or peanut oil. Neutral oils won’t impart any flavors to the fish.

More Thai fish recipes you’ll love

If you love this Thai spicy catfish recipe, please leave a star rating and/or a comment below!

Thai Spicy Catfish Recipe With Red Curry Paste

Thai spicy catfish garnished with fiery red chilies on a white plate, served next to sticky rice in a traditional bamboo container.
Crispy, deep-fried catfish chunks tossed in a hot red curry paste that's bursting with bold flavors!
Praew
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Main Course
Serving Size 2 people

Ingredients

  • oil for deep-frying
  • 17.5 ounces catfish
  • 3 tablespoons oil for stir-frying
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar
  • 2 chilies to taste
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 tablespoons water

Instructions

PREPARE THE CATFISH

  • Clean and gut the catfish. Make a cut on the belly and use your fingers to get the fish guts out. Give the inside a good rinse.
  • Slice into segments. Lay the fish on a chopping board and cut it info even segments.
  • Remove the slimy layer. Massage the pieces with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and half a tablespoon of salt, making sure each piece is well-coated.
  • Wash the pieces. Transfer the catfish to a bowl of cold water. Rub them and rinse under running water.

DEEP-FRY CATFISH

  • Deep-fry. In a large pan, heat enough oil to submerge the fish pieces over medium-low heat. Once hot, deep-fry the catfish, flipping them occasionally.
  • Let excess oil leak. After approx 10 minutes, when the catfish turns golden with a crispy texture, remove from pan and transfer to a colander to let excess oil drip off.

STIR-FRY THE CATFISH

  • Fry red curry paste. Heat oil in a large wok pan or skillet over medium heat. Toss in the red curry paste and stir it until aromatic or 10–20 seconds.
  • Add flavors. Stir in water, palm sugar, fish sauce, chilies, and kaffir lime leaves.
  • Cook until sugar dissolves. Make sure all the seasonings are well mixed, and cook until the sugar dissolves.
  • Add the catfish.
  • Thoroughly coat each piece with spicy sauce and serve immediately.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • Serve with a portion of steamed rice.

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