How to Fry Fish
Here's everything you need to know for a perfect Friday fish fry—from which fish to use to the best tools, tips and more.
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In many parts of the country, Friday night means only one thing: fish fry. Usually tied to Lent, the time before Easter when meat is off the menu (at least one day a week), restaurants, fast-food outlets, bars, church halls, and homes come loaded with golden fried fish sided by tartar sauce, creamy coleslaw, and potato pancakes or French fries.
The components of a fish fry are pretty standard everywhere you go, no matter if it’s around the Midwest and Great Lakes or in parts of the Northeast and the South. But there are some regional differences. The fish itself can be freshwater walleye or catfish, or Alaskan cod or other mild white, flaky fish from the sea. It can be either batter fried, breaded or coated in other crispy things like cornmeal or corn flakes.
For sides, it’s practically mandatory to have potato pancakes, rye bread and a brandy old-fashioned sweet with your fish fry in Wisconsin. In Georgia or South Carolina, you’ll probably see hushpuppies with your fried fish.
Here, we’ll walk you through a crunchy battered fish fry recipe that’s so good and easy, you’ll want to serve it any day of the week all year long.
What Is the Best Way to Fry Fish?
To fry any battered or breaded fish fillets, you can use an electric skillet or deep fryer, or a deep enamel pot or a sturdy cast-iron skillet on the stove. When learning how to deep fry anything, first choose the best oil for frying. You want one that has a high smoking point, like canola, vegetable, safflower or peanut oil. Here’s the best oil for frying fish.
Then it’s all about regulating the temperature. Keeping the oil around 375°F, the best for deep frying according to our deep frying temperature chart, is paramount for the crispiest, crunchiest fish. If frying in batches, make sure the oil returns to that temperature before adding additional pieces.
A few extra tips for frying fish: Watch out for splatters, keep moisture away from the oil, and don’t overcrowd the pan. As to how long to fry fish, most fillets take around 5 minutes per side and are done when the internal temp reaches 145°.
What Kind of Fish Should You Fry?
When looking for the best fish for frying, it depends on where you’re located and what kind of fresh or saltwater fish you can source. In Wisconsin, for instance—and in this fish fry recipe—we use walleye, a mild, flaky freshwater fish from the perch family. In Northeastern Ohio, you might see lake perch plated up for a fish fry; in the South, it’s often catfish or tilapia. Learn how to make fried catfish.
Alaskan cod is widely available everywhere, both in the fresh and frozen seafood departments, and very common for fried fish recipes. Other good fish to fry include rockfish, orange roughy or snapper. Types of fish that don’t deep fry well include salmon, striped bass, trout, swordfish or tuna; keep those for roasting, searing or grilling.
Whichever fish you use, be sure to get boneless, skinless fillets that you can cut into manageable portions.
Fish Fry Recipe
For the tartar sauce:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup sweet pickle relish
- 4-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
For the fish:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons lemon-pepper seasoning
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
- 1-1/2 cups ice water
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- Oil for deep-fat frying
- 2 pounds walleye fillets, cut into 6 pieces
- Lemon wedges
Tools You’ll Need
- Electric fryer: With deeper walls and lots of surface area, the Presto Foldaway Electric Skillet is a great option for deep frying fish.
- Cast-iron skillet: This Lodge 15-inch cast-iron skillet allows for plenty of room for frying fish fillets. A heavy-bottomed pot with higher sides is another great option, like this 5-quart Dutch oven from Lodge.
- Digital thermometer: It’s the best tool for keeping a consistent temperature for your oil when deep frying. We like the ThermoWorks digital thermometer.
Step 1: Make the sauce and batter
In a small bowl, combine the first five ingredients and set aside. In another small bowl, combine the flour, lemon-pepper seasoning, baking powder, garlic salt and parsley flakes.
In a measuring cup, combine the ice water (but don’t add the ice!) and 2 tablespoons of oil. Make sure the water is super cold, which helps create a crispy crust. Whisk the wet ingredients into dry ingredients until smooth.
Step 2: Heat the oil
In an electric skillet, deep fryer, cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottom pot, add oil so it will cover the fillets while frying. Depending on which tool you use, that could be 2 inches to half full. Heat oil to 375°F. Keep a thermometer handy to keep an eye on the temperature.
Step 3: Fry the fish
Pat the fish dry with paper towels. When the oil is up to temperature, use tongs to dip a piece of the fish into the batter, turning until it’s fully coated. Allow excess batter to drip off, then add each piece to hot oil. Fry only a few pieces of fish at a time so you don’t overcrowd the pan. That will drop the oil temperature too low and the fish could come out soggy.
Fry the fish for 5 to 7 minutes on one side, then flip and fry for another 5 minutes. Once golden brown and easy to flake with a fork, transfer the fish to a paper towel-lined plate or baking rack. Sprinkle with salt if desired. Make sure the oil returns to 375° and repeat steps until all the fish is fried.
Step 4: Enjoy your fish fry!
Serve the fried fish with fresh lemon and tartar sauce and any sides you like.
Tips for Frying Fish
How can I make my fried fish crispy?
A few things will help keep that golden coating super crispy and crunchy. First, keep the oil at 375°. If frying in batches, bring the oil back up to temperature before adding more fish. Don’t overcrowd the pan with fillets, resist the urge to move the fish around once it’s in the oil, and fry it long enough. Also, don’t cover the skillet or fryer when frying the fish. That creates steam which will end up in a soggy and greasy coating.
How do you keep the coating on fried fish?
Always pat the fish dry with paper towels before dipping it into the batter. You can also dredge the fish in a little seasoned (with salt and pepper) all-purpose flour before dipping into the wet batter to help seal the deal.
How long should I fry my fish?
This depends on the fish, its thickness and the coating. On average, however, most fish should take no more than 7 minutes per side. The internal temperature should be 145° when done. Again, keeping the oil at the right temperature will ensure the coating and fish cook to the right doneness.
What other coatings can I use for fried fish?
In addition to wet batter, you can use breadcrumbs, cornflakes, cornmeal and Parmesan cheese as a coating for fried fish. You can even make gluten-free fried fish by swapping in gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour.
How do you reheat fried fish?
While you can make fried fish in an air fryer (here’s a great recipe for air-fryer fish and fries), it really comes in handy for reheating previously cooked fried fish. Just place your leftover fish in a single layer in the air fryer basket. Set the air fryer to “reheat” with a temperature of 350°. Reheat for 6-7 minutes, flipping after 4 minutes.
You can also reheat in a 350° oven.
What should I serve with fried fish?
In Wisconsin, any fish fry worth its walleye comes with lemon wedges, tartar sauce, creamy coleslaw, rustic rye bread or marble rye bread, potato pancakes and brandy old-fashioned sweets. You can also serve hushpuppies with fried fish and any kind of French fries, like these easy oven fries.