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It doesn’t matter if you got the fish yourself or bought it at the market; knowing how to fry fish will help you prepare fish in one of the tastiest ways possible. This article will provide tips and tricks on how to fry fish, including choosing the best fish to fry, how to prepare both the fish in the pan as well as the process of frying the fish. Once you learn how to properly fry fish, both pan-fried and deep-fried, you can use those skills to fry a variety of other foods as well.
What Are the Best Fish to Fry?
Before we can get to how to fry fish, you need to know the best fish to fry. Frying, both pan-frying and deep fat frying, use high heat to cook and oil to keep the fish from sticking to the pan and give it that nice golden crunch. Because of this, fatty saltwater fish such as Chilean sea bass, tuna, and salmon make poor choices for frying. The high heat releases their fat and leads to a greasy, messy product.
On the other hand, lean fish are perfect for frying. Generally, look for fish that have white flesh such as cod, bass, tilapia, and trout. These are all white-fleshed fish that will become perfectly flaky with a nice golden crust when fried properly.
Preparing the Fish and the Pan
The next thing to consider is the preparation of both the fish and pan. Frying fish involves breading, and it is best to make sure you have all of the needed breading ingredients set and ready beforehand, especially if you are cooking for a lot of people.
Start with the fish. Fillets are the best option for frying, so if you are dealing with a whole fish or a large side of the fish, cut it into fillets first. If you are using frozen fillets, defrost them completely before preparing them for frying. Once the fish is in the size that you want, rinse it and then pat it dry with a paper towel. In order to make the breading stick, it is best that be as dry as possible.
If you are pan frying your fish, choose a frying pan that will offer good and steady heat. Cast-iron or stainless steel fry pans work well for pan frying fish. Place the pan on the heat and add enough of a high smoke point oil to coat the bottom of the pan, but not so much that the fish will be swimming in it. Neutral vegetable oil such as safflower, grapeseed, or sunflower oil works well for this. If you have it, clarified butter is another excellent choice. Regular butter or olive oil, especially extra-virgin, are poor choices for frying fish as they have a low smoke point and will burn.
If you decide to deep fry fish, you will need a large saucepan: at least 3 quarts in size. A deep-frying thermometer that can latch to the side of the pan and in the oil will help to ensure that you keep the temperature in the right zone. Add at least 2 inches of neutral vegetable oil and heat it to 375°. Never fill your deep frying vessel more than two-thirds of the way to the top. Remember that when you add the uncooked fish to the deep fryer, the temperature will immediately go down, so make sure to adjust the heat accordingly to keep it between 350 and 375°.
Often times, by the time you finish frying all the fish, the first pieces that you fried will have become cold. To prevent this, preheat your oven to 250° and place a baking sheet with a wire rack on top of it inside the oven. Place the fish that you finish cooking under that baking sheet to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the fish. The oil used in the deep fat fryer can be reused as long as you did not let it get above 400°. Strain the oil with cheesecloth to remove any burned bits of batter and store in a cool dry place for later use.
Prepare the Coating
Adding a coating to fish is a great way to add crunch and flavor as well as protect the tender flesh of the fish from overcooking. There are a multitude of different types of coating for fried fish, but most of them utilize a wet and a dry coating. After the fish is cleaned and patted dry, dip it into the wet coating and then move it to the dry coating. In order to keep your hands as clean as possible, use one hand to add and remove the fish from the wet coating and another hand to get the dry coating onto it.
One of the most common coatings for pan frying requires two shallow dishes. In the wet dish combine a single beaten egg with 2 tablespoons of milk and whisk to combine. For the dry dish, use two-thirds of a cup cornmeal or breadcrumbs with a dash of freshly ground black pepper and a teaspoon of salt. Coat both sides of the fillet in the egg mixture and then move them to the dry mixture, pressing gently to make sure it adheres to the fillet. Flip the fillet so that both sides are covered.
Deep frying reverses the order and uses a slightly different type of batter. For dry coating, just a 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour in a shallow dish will suffice. As for the batter itself, beer batter is one of the most popular types of coating for deep-fried fish. To prepare the beer batter, add equal parts all-purpose flour and beer and combine them with beaten eggs at the ratio of 1/2 cup of each, flour to beer, to one egg. Add 1/4 of a tablespoon of baking powder, black pepper, and salt to season the batter, though paprika or other spices can be added as well. Coat each fillet with flour and then dip in the batter, turning them to coat all sides.
Frying the Fish
Finally, we have reached the most important part of learning how to fry fish: the actual frying. As with the other parts of the preparation and choosing the fish, there will be differences between pan frying and deep frying.
How to Fry Fish in the Pan
Once you have added the correct amount of oil to the pan, heat it until the oil slides around the pan without any difficulties. Some prefer to test whether the pan is hot enough by dripping a few drops of water in the pan. If the water pops and sizzles, the pan is ready. If you decide to do this, be sure to do it safely. Do not add too much water, as this can cause the oil to spit and start a fire.
Generally, you want to put the side of the fish you would like to present on top when you place it into the pan. If the fish fillet has skin on one side, cook that side first. It is best to pan fry a fish by turning it only once, if possible. For each inch of thickness, fish require 10 minutes of cooking. Most fillets are smaller than that, so three or four minutes per side will usually suffice. Some fish break apart easily when pan frying, so a wide spatula will help you turn the fish over without breaking apart.
How to Fry Fish by Deep Fat Frying
Wait until your oil has come to 375° and then carefully add two or three of the battered fillets to the oil. Adding any more will crowd the pan and make it more likely that the fish will stick together or brush the batter off of each other. Most fillets will cook in a deep-fat fryer in 2 to 4 minutes and you’ll be able to tell they are done when the batter is golden and crispy. Use a slotted spoon or a spider skimmer to remove the cooked fish and place on the rack in the oven to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest.
It is important to take precautions when deep frying. Heating that much oil can lead to a fire risk if spilled, and there is a risk of horrible burns. Never leave heated oil unattended in your kitchen and remove any flammable items from the stove area. If the oil overheats and begins to smoke, turn the stove off immediately. Smoking oil can cause grease fires. If you do get a grease fire, never use water to douse it as this will make it worse. Baking soda can be used to fight grease fires so having some of it handy is a good idea
Flying fish is one of the tastiest ways to prepare it. We hope you have used the information above to learn how to fry fish. Once you have mastered the basics outlined here, you will be prepared to fry other foods and make more complex meals.