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How to Fry Fish

From simple pan-fried fish to Southern fried catfish, check out our best recipes, tips, and techniques for flavorful, crispy fillets.

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How to Pan-Fry Fish

Pan-fried fish uses just a thin layer of hot oil or shortening in a skillet and a light flour or cornmeal coating on the fish instead of a batter. It is a bit simpler, less messy, and more healthful than deep-frying.

See Pan-Fried Fish with Peppers & Pecans recipe

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Choose Your Fish

For four servings, choose 1 pound of skinless fish fillets, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Any fillets will work, including mild-flavor whitefish, cod, flounder, red snapper, and orange roughy. If frozen, thaw the fillets in the refrigerator. A 1-pound package will thaw in 1 to 2 days.

Prep the Fish

Rinse the fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Transfer fillets to a cutting board and cut them into four pieces using a sharp knife.

Make the Coating

  1. In a shallow dish combine one beaten egg with 2 tablespoons water or milk. This wet mixture will help the coating stick to the fish.
  2. In another shallow dish combine 2/3 cup cornmeal or fine dry bread crumbs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash ground black pepper. Or substitute 1-1/3 cups crushed potato chips or saltine crackers for the cornmeal, omitting the salt. This dry mixture creates a crunchy coating on the fish when pan-fried.

Dip and Dredge the Fish

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. This keeps the cooked fillets warm while cooking additional pieces.
  2. Choose a large heavy skillet and add 1/4 inch vegetable oil or shortening. Heat the fat over medium-high heat.
  3. Dip each fillet first into the egg mixture, coating each side. Next place each fillet in the cornmeal mixture and press gently to help the mixture adhere to the fish. Turn each fillet over and repeat until the whole fillet is covered with cornmeal mixture.

Pan-Fry the Fish

  1. Add half of the coated fish fillets in a single layer to the hot oil in the skillet. The oil should be hot enough that it sizzles when you add the fish. Fry the fish until golden on the bottom. This will take about 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Once the first side is golden, flip the fish over using a large metal spatula and a fork to steady the fish. Take care to avoid splattering the fat. The fat should still be hot enough to sizzle when the fish is flipped.
  3. Cook the second side until golden and the fish begins to flake when tested with a fork (3 to 4 minutes more).
  4. Layer two or three paper towels on a dinner plate. With a spatula, carefully transfer each cooked piece of fish to the paper towels to drain. Flip the fish to drain both sides.
  5. Keep the cooked fish warm on a baking sheet in the oven while cooking the remaining fish.

Serve the Fish

If desired, serve the pan-fried fish with lemon wedges and Tartar Sauce.

How to Make Deep-Fried Fish

For deep-fried fish, dip pieces of fish in a beer batter or several coatings of egg and seasoned flour before frying to a crisp golden brown.

See Crispy Fish & Peppers recipe

Prep the Fish

For four servings, buy 1 pound fresh or frozen skinless fillets, cut 1/2 inch thick. If frozen, thaw the fish in the refrigerator. Cut the fillets into 3x2-inch pieces. Rinse the fish and pat dry with papers towels.

Heat the Oil

You will need a 3-quart heavy saucepan or deep-fat fryer for frying the fish. Attach a deep-frying thermometer to the side of the pan. Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 375 degrees F. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Make the Batter

  • In a shallow dish add 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and set it aside.
  • For the batter, in a medium bowl add 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup beer, one egg, and 1/4 teaspoon each of baking powder, salt, and ground black pepper. Use a whisk to beat the batter until smooth.
  • Dip fish pieces into the flour, turning to coat all sides, and shake off excess flour. The flour will help the batter to stick to the fish.
  • Dip the fish into the batter next, turning to coat all sides.

Fry the Fish

Fry the fish, two or three pieces at a time, in the hot oil until the coating is golden and fish begins to flake when tested with a fork, turning once. This takes about 3 or 4 minutes per batch. Drain the fish on paper towels, flipping the fish to drain both sides. Transfer fish to a baking sheet and keep it warm in the oven while frying the remaining fish.

Serve the Fish

If desired, sprinkle the fried fish with coarse salt and serve with Tartar Sauce or drizzle with malt vinegar.

Our Favorite Fried Fish Recipes

Crisp Catfish with Apple-Celery Slaw

Fish Tacos with Lime Sauce

Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Rolls

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