How to Fry Fish-A complete Guide

Fish frys are an American tradition across this country whether its frying fresh mullet on the gulf coast, freshwater river catfish caught by trotline, or traditional style fish and chips with fresh wild caught Atlantic Cod.

We are going to go over the different methods, techniques, and equipment for frying fish.  

It is very simple to fry fish. Simply make sure your fry grease is at 350℉, roll your favorite fish in batter, drop in the hot grease and pull the fish out when it’s golden brown.  

Fish frys are a staple in many communities around our great country. I grew up in the small seafood town of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, and fish frys are commonplace around here.

We will use any excuse to have a fish fry because they are such a fun way of cooking fish for large groups of people.

I have found that the tradition of fish frys happens all over America. I’m about to tell you exactly how I like to fry my fish. 

The type of fish to use for a fish fry is different across the country but typically it’s a fish that is your hometown favorite or something fresh caught!

In Bayou La Batre we use popeye mullet typically caught that day or the day before.

I remember as a kid my grandpa would ask if everyone wanted to fry fish and he would go out catch them that morning and by lunchtime we would have fried mullet, grits, white bread, and french fried taters ready to eat.

My family fish frys are some of my favorite memories and hopefully with this information you’ll soon be hosting your own fish fry!

Let’s go over how to fry fish with some of the best methods and equipment to use and why they’re ideal.

What Frying Method to Use for Fish

Deep frying is the best method to use when frying fish. Deep frying  is a cooking method in which food is submerged in hot grease most commonly vegetable oil.

This is my preferred oil for frying fish.  It cooks a great fried fish with the perfect crunch.

You may also like this guide over on taste of home  on how to deep fry with confidence.

Safety when Deep Frying Fish

Safety first when deep frying fish. You’re heating oil to a very high temperature, so make sure you’re focused on cooking. Make sure to keep kids and pets out of the area when deep frying.

Water and grease obviously do not mix so make sure you pat any extra moisture off the fish fillets before dipping it in the oil and dry your utensils.

To prevent splattering oil or burning yourself, do not touch the frying basket or add food while the basket is submerged in oil.

It is important never to leave your fryer unattended. Because frying is a very fast cooking process, food can blacken, burn, and become a potential fire hazard if cooked only a few minutes too long.

If you are frying in a skillet, use a slotted spoon or tongs to take the food out of the oil when you think it is done. Never use plastic when deep-frying as some plastic can easily melt in the hot oil.

Do not test the internal temperature of the food while it is submerged in the hot oil; this will lead to an inaccurate temperature reading.

Which Grease is Best to Use For Frying Fish?

Beef Tallow is the best grease to fry fish. There are many different types of grease, oil, and fat to deep fry fish. Always make sure that you have enough oil to be able fully submerge your fish filets when frying.

Make sure whatever oil you use for deep frying your fish has a high smoke point. A smoking point is the temperature it takes for the oil to start to break down and smoke.

Once it smokes, it’s not good for frying.  Some of the best oil and fat with high smoke points are: Lard,Peanut oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil or vegetable oil.

Do not use butter, shortening or olive oil as they have low smoking points.

Equipment for Frying Fish 

Deep frying fish is easier with the right equipment for your situation. For cooking at home I use a cast iron deep skillet with a taylor digital deep fry probe thermometer.

Deep frying fish in a skillet is a very traditional way to fry but requires a little bit more skill in monitoring and maintaining the temperature of the grease. 

I recommend using the presto fry daddy for the simplest way to fry fish at home you just set the temperature and when the grease is ready add your fish filets to be fried to perfection.

To lift your fish out of the hot grease you’ll want a wire basket, slotted metal spoon, or kitchen spider.

You will also need a pair of metal tongs to flip your fish in the grease. Make sure to have plenty of paper towels to catch the excess grease off the fish.

One of the greatest things about frying fish is hosting a good ole fashioned fish fry.

When frying fish for large crowds I recommend an outdoor deep fryer such as the Bayou classic 4-gallon deep fryer

Frying fish for large amount people seems intimidating but it’s a breeze when you have the following equipment:

  • Outdoor deep fryer
  • Flooding table
  • Batter bowl 
  • Metal Hotel Pan
  • Metal tongs
  • Plenty of paper towels to line the bottom of the hotel pans to catch the grease off the fried fish.  

The Right Temperature to Fry Fish 

The best temperature to fry is 350℉. It allows the fish filets to evenly cook on the inside and out.

If I say it once I’ll say it a thousand times. The temperature of the grease is the most important part of frying fish to perfection. If your grease is too hot it will cook the outside of the fish and the inside will be under cooked.

If your grease is too cold your fish will be soggy and greasy. I heat my oil to 350℉ before I add any fish filets to the grease.

Many table top deep fryers will have a thermostat built in and will cut on and off to make sure the grease is at the pre set temperature.

When using a skillet or frying pan you will need to use a deep fry probe thermometer.  Once your grease is at the right temperature it is time to drop your fish filets. 

Battering or Dry Coating

There are many different techniques for battering and coating fish such as dry coating in cornmeal or doing a wet batter with beer, flour and egg for beer battered fish.

The local way in Bayou La Batre, Alabama is a dry coating, rolling the fish filet in meal (cornmeal or corn meal based breading) shaking the excess meal off the filet then dropping in the hot grease till golden brown.

The battering technique is up to you as in the south it is common for people to use cornmeal based batter but in the North East it is common to use a wet batter with flour and egg. 

I like to experiment with different types of batter. Adding cracker meal to batter is another great way to fry fish. Check out this awesome fried catfish recipe from southern living. 

Dropping the Fish in the grease

When your grease is 350℉ Drop your battered fish filets in the grease, but make sure not to overload the deep fryer basket or the skillet with too many pieces of fish.

Putting too many pieces of fish in the grease will cause the temperature to drop dramatically.

I recommend frying fish in small batches if using a skillet. If using a deep fryer, line the bottom of the fry basket with fish filets but do not stack fish filets on top of each other and cause them to stick together.

How Long to Fry Fish?

When your fish filets hit the grease be careful as it will bubble and pop. When frying, you are cooking the moisture out of the food so this will lead to moisture escaping and possibly grease popping.

Pay attention to the bubbles of the fish filets in the grease as the less bubbles pop in the grease the fish fillets are closer to being done.

Your first batch fish will be a light golden brown and the more you use the grease the darker your fish fillets will be.

It all depends on the thickness of fish fillets for the cooking time but in general it is 3-5 minutes.  Once your fish filets are golden brown it is time to pull them out of the grease.

Place them on a plate or pan lined with plenty of paper towels and salt and pepper to taste. 

How to Clean your Grease? 

Once your first batch of fish is done be sure to clean your grease with a slotted spoon to get any bits of food that remain in the oil.

If any pieces of batter or food  are left in the grease they will continue to cook and will eventually burn, making your grease useless to continue frying any more fish.

Once you clean your grease make sure the temperature is back to 350℉ and repeat the process till you are done frying your fish.

Practice Makes Perfect

I’ve made every mistake in the book when frying fish and I’ve learned through trial and error over the years.

I’m passing on what I’ve learned so that y’all can enjoy frying fish and hosting your own fish frys for your friends and family.

So keep the grease hot and try out all the awesome different ways to fry fish!

Jacob James

Jacob James and his family have been involved in the seafood industry for over 100 years on The Alabama Gulf Coast. He grew up on His grandfather's shrimp dock in Bayou La Batre, Al. He has great respect for the commercial fishing industry and understands the hardships that this industry faces. His focus is to bring awareness of the lost traditions and customs of the Gulf Coast by writing about the ways of keeping tradition.

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