As you might know, we’re in the midst of Lent—high season for all sorts of fish dishes, but especially fish fries! While it’s always fun to head out to your local hot spot for a fish fry, why not try battering up and making it yourself? But before you dive in to the seafood section, let’s review what kind of fish are best for frying (and which you can prepare in other tasty ways).
Your Best Options For Frying
Alaskan cod is often used in America’s restaurants for fish and chips because it takes perfectly to the breading and high temps used in frying. See for yourself with this delicious fried cod and french fry recipe. When purchasing cod, look for filets that are less than 1.5 inches and are sized to fit in your skillet or fryer without touching the sides or overlapping. You’ll want to keep the temperature of your oil at 375°. If the temperature falls below that mark, the breading will begin to absorb the oil rather than remaining crispy. If the temperature gets much higher than that, the insides will not cook to a safe temp before the outside is crispy.
Tilapia or Catfish
If cod isn’t your style, try farm-raised tilapia or catfish. Both these ready-to-fry fish are readily available at most markets and very affordable. Tilapia is a mild-tasting versatile fish allows you to play with various seasonings and batters. Catfish has a stronger taste that pairs well with a corn meal breading. This cornmeal-breaded catfish recipe is worth trying!
Don’t forget about exploring local fish options, too. Here in the frozen North, by the shores of Gitchee Gumee, we have perch, whitefish, and wall-eye in our grocery stores—all great for frying. I love the crunchy coating on this wall-eye recipe. When purchasing check to be sure that the filets are boneless; frying is a quick process and doesn’t allow enough time for bones to be broken down.
Pan Fry or Deep Fry?
To deep fry or pan fry, that is the question! Either method works well, but you may find that using a fryer is easier for small pieces unless your fryer has a large surface area. If yours doesn’t have temperature control or if you are frying in a skillet, use a candy/fry kitchen thermometer to ensure your temperature remains at 375ºF. Scared to try frying? Here’s how to deep fry at home with confidence.
A word about skillets: I find that using cast-iron for searing and frying, which require high heat, to be the best choice. It is difficult to keep other materials hot enough without the risk of discoloration the metal or even causing warping. A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet will last you and your progeny several lifetimes. Mine belonged to my husband’s grandmother!
Skip Frying These Fish (But Still Give Them a Try!)
There are lots of great options for frying, but stear clear of a few fishy options. Fish with a steak-like texture like tuna, swordfish, salmon, and shark are best prepared by grilling or pan-searing. Salmon of course also takes well to baking. (Check out our top 10 salmon dinners!) Because of the density and thickness of these types of fish, when breaded and deep-fried they tend not to cook in the center. Plus the high heat can make them dry.
Enjoy your home-crafted fish fry, and don’t forget the traditional and delicious sides!