Get hooked on the concept of DIY pan-fried, air-fried, or deep-fried fish. Yes, you can learn how to fry fish at home that tastes just as good as (maybe better than) you’d order at a restaurant or a fish fry.

By Karla Walsh
Updated July 09, 2020
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Deep-fried fish, pan-fried fish, and other homemade crispy seafood recipes can seem intimidating. “Will they make my house smell?” Nope! Not if you follow our instructions about the best fish to fry and cook with. “Will I end up with a soggy batter?” No, we’re here to walk you through every step of the process of how to fry fish, so you end up with the crispiest results. So trust yourself, you’ve reel-y got this, and prepare to prep your best batch ever of deep-fried fish, pan-fried fish, or air-fried fish for dinner this week.

How to Make Pan-Fried 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.

Choose Your Fish

For 4 servings, choose 1 pound of skinless fish fillets, about ½- to ¾-inch thick. So what’s the best fish to fry? 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. (If you prefer non-battered seafood, check out how to bake fish to flaky perfection.)

cutting fish fillet with knife on cutting board
Credit: Blaine Moats

Prep the Fish

Rinse the fillets and pat dry with paper towels, so the wet and dry coatings can adhere better to the fish. Transfer fillets to a cutting board ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond) and cut them into four pieces using a sharp knife ($60, Williams Sonoma).

Make the Coating

In a shallow dish, combine 1 beaten egg with 2 tablespoons water or milk. This wet mixture helps the coating stick to the fish. 

In another shallow dish combine ⅔ cup cornmeal or fine, dry bread crumbs with ½ teaspoon salt and a dash ground black pepper. Or substitute 1⅓ cups crushed potato chips, crackers, or unsweetened cereal (such as corn flakes) for the cornmeal, omitting the salt. This dry mixture creates a crunchy coating on the fish when pan-fried.

dipping fish fillet in egg mixture to coat
placing fish fillet in cornmeal mixture to cover
Left: Credit: Blaine Moats
Right: Credit: Blaine Moats

Dip and Dredge the Fish

Preheat the oven to 300°F. This keeps the cooked fillets warm as you finish pan-frying the remaining fillets. (This is one of many Test Kitchen tricks we swear by here at the BH&G headquarters!)

Choose a large heavy skillet ($70, Target); something like your biggest cast-iron skillet will work marvelously. Add ¼ inch of fat. You can either use shortening or one of the best oils to fry fish, which is any mild vegetable oil. Standard vegetable oil is affordable and nearly flavorless, and canola or peanut oil work well too. Heat the fat over medium-high.

Dip each fillet first into the egg mixture, coating each side. Place each coated 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 dry mixture.

Pan-Fry the Fish

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 to the pan. Fry the fish until golden on the bottom. For all those wondering, “how long does fish take to fry?”: As a rough estimate, it takes about 3 to 4 minutes per side to pan-fry the average fillet.

Once the first side is golden, flip the fish over, using tongs or a large metal spatula such as this OXO Fish Turner, ($14, Target) 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.

pan-frying breaded fish fillets in skillet with oil
Credit: Blaine Moats

Cook the second side until golden and the fish begins to flake when tested with a fork (3 to 4 minutes more). 

Layer two or three paper towels on a plate to soak up the excess oil. With a spatula, carefully transfer each cooked piece of fish to the paper towels to drain. Flip the fish to drain both sides.

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.

Open-Face Crispy-Fish Sandwiches
Credit: Blaine Moats

How to Make Deep-Fried Fish

For deep-fried fish that’s just as crispy as what you snag from a fish and chips restaurant, dip pieces of fish in a beer batter or several coatings of egg and seasoned flour before frying to a crisp golden brown.

Get the Deep Fried Fish Sandwich Recipe

Prep the Fish

For 4 servings, buy 1 pound fresh or frozen skinless fillets, cut about ½-inch thick. If frozen, thaw the fish in the refrigerator. Cut the fillets into 3-inch x 2-inch pieces. Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat the Oil

You will need a 3-quart heavy saucepan ($40, Bed Bath & Beyond) or deep-fat fryer for frying the fish. Attach a deep-frying thermometer ($15, Sur la Table) to the side of the pan. Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 375° F, then preheat the oven to 300°F to keep the cooked fish warm as you sizzle up the other batches.

Make the Batter

In a shallow dish add ½ cup all-purpose flour and set it aside.

For the batter, in a medium bowl add ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup beer, 1 egg, and ¼ teaspoon each 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 stick to the fish. Next dip the fish into the batter, 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 deep-fried fish on paper towels, flipping the fillets 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.

Southern Style "Fried" Catfish and Green Beans
Credit: Greg DuPree

How to Air-Fry Fish

Air-fried fish can be battered or “fried” in the trendy appliance with a simple rub or spice blend. Using the air fryer, essentially a mini convection oven, is one of the fastest and healthiest tactics for how to fry fish. For similar results to the pan-fried and deep-fried fish methods explained above, we’ll share how to air-fry battered fish.

Prep the Fish

For 4 servings, buy 24 ounces of fresh or frozen skinless fillets that are about ½-inch thick. If frozen, thaw the fish in the refrigerator. Cut the fillets into 6-ounce portions. Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels.

Make the Batter

In a shallow dish add ½ cup all-purpose flour. In a separate shallow dish, combine 1 beaten egg with 2 tablespoons water or milk. In one final dish or plate, add ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs.

Dip fish pieces into the flour, turning to coat all sides, and shake off excess flour. Next dip the fish into the egg mixture, turning to coat all sides, and last, sprinkle with panko, pressing to coat evenly on all sides.

Air-Fry the Fish

Place fish in an air fryer basket and spray the breaded fish with nonstick cooking spray. Cook at 400°F until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Serve the Fish

Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. If desired, pair with a homemade tartar sauce (whisk together 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1½ teaspoons dill, ¾ teaspoon pickle relish, ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar, and ⅛ teaspoon sugar in a small bowl) and lemon wedges. 

Now that you’re a pro at three methods for how to fry fish, refresh your memory on how to make French fries. Then invite your friends or family to the table for a fish fry that will have them hooked from the first bite.

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