The distinguishing and namesake features of the catfish are the large, whisker-like barbs protruding from its face, though not all catfish have them. They are an extremely varied species that live in both freshwater and saltwater around the globe. They are most similar in taste to tilapia or rockfish.

Catfish are bottom feeders that live in deep and muddy waters, so some eaters with sensitive palettes claim the fish has a dirty or grimy taste. However, with the rise of commercial farming, most catfish available for consumption are fed a diet of processed protein pellets, thereby producing a milder, sweeter taste. Commercially available catfish are generally farmed rather than caught wild. Seek out U.S.-farmed catfish.