There's More Than One Way to Fry a Fish

Family get-togethers. Political rallies. Church socials. Backyard parties. In the South, wherever people gather, there's likely to be a fish fry

There's More Than One Way to Fry a Fish
There's More Than One Way to Fry a Fish
Print Recipe

The traditional southern fish fry dates back to the 18th century when families first gathered on the banks of large southern rivers for weekend “picnic seinings.” Long nets (picnic seines) were employed to catch large quantities of fish. Most were smoked, dried or pickled for later use, but the fisher folk never passed up a meal of fresh-caught fish. Lard was heated in a large cast iron kettle (probably the same one used for scalding hogs). Then pieces of fish were dredged in stone-ground corn meal and fried in the hot grease. Hushpuppies, fried potatoes, big pots of beans, and plenty of home-made pickles and desserts rounded out the meal. Then, as now, no one went home from a fish fry hungry. 

Catfish are cooked at most fish fries today, because they’re delicious, inexpensive and available in large quantities from fish markets and grocery stores. Any lean fish is excellent when fried, however, so if you have plenty on hand to serve your guests, you may want to substitute bass, crappie, bream, trout or saltwater species like grouper and sea trout.

There are numerous methods for frying fish. All are rather simple, and if you follow a few simple rules, all produce a mouth-watering repast. Here’s a sampling.

Deep-frying

When properly done, deep-frying produces tender, delectable fish with a crisp crust. Unfortunately, many cooks neglect to follow the most important step — bringing the oil to a proper temperature before adding the fish.


A temperature of 375 degrees is best. To determine when the fish is done, insert a fork. Properly cooked fish flakes easily and is opaque and moist. Beware of overcooking, which produces tough, dry fish.


Add fish to the oil one or two pieces at a time, and allow the oil to return to the desired temperature before adding more. When you lower a basket of fish into the oil, the temperature is reduced, and if another batch is added too soon, the fish will absorb oil and come out soggy and distasteful.

 Savvy fish cooks always keep their fish cold right up to the moment it’s slipped into the cooking oil. The reaction between the hot oil and cold fish seals the coating immediately. Fish cooked this way turns out perfect, moist and flaky inside, crisp and golden brown outside.

The type of oil you use for deep-frying is a matter of personal preference, but most Southern fish chefs prefer peanut, safflower or corn oils, which can be heated to a very high point (over 500 degrees) without imparting a foreign flavor. If plain vegetable oil is used, be certain the temperature does not exceed 400 degrees.

You’ll need a fish cooker, deep fryer, wok or deep pot for cooking. To maintain the suggested 375-degree cooking temperature, you’ll also need a cooking thermometer that clips onto the side of the frypan. These cost only a couple of dollars and are available at most grocery stores.


The cooking oil should be deep enough to cover the fish, but the pot should never be more than half full. Two or three inches are usually adequate. A deep pot full of oil is unstable and could cause serious burns if accidentally overturned.

When the fish is done, place it in a single layer on paper towels or brown grocery bags to drain. For the best flavor, serve immediately. The crust may become soggy if serving is delayed.

Pan-frying

You can pan-fry, or sauté, almost any fish fillet, steak or small whole fish. This method involves cooking the fish in a large skillet to which has been added a few tablespoons of butter or oil. Heat to the bubbly stage, add the fish, and cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides. If done correctly, the skin of the fish will turn out crispy, not burned, and the flesh will be flaky and moist. Add oil or butter as necessary between batches of fish.


The pan-fry skillet should never be covered when cooking. If this is done, steam forms, and the skin will not crisp. It’s also important to avoid crowding the fish in a too-small skillet. This cools the oil or butter and makes the fish greasy.

Stir-frying

Stir-frying—using high heat, relatively little oil and constant stirring—is an Oriental cooking technique. Small pieces of boneless fish combined with thin-cut vegetables are well suited to this technique of rapid cooking.

Before starting, determine the relative cooking time for the fish and vegetables. Start with the item that requires the longest cooking. Add just enough oil to the heated wok or large skillet to cook all the fish and vegetables being prepared. Have all the ingredients close at hand and ready to cook once you start the process. Seasonings should be added near the end of the cooking time.

Following are some delicious recipes you can try the next time you’re having a fish fry for friends or family. Each lists specific types of fish to use, but you can substitute similar types of fish in any recipe.

Crackerjack Crappie Fillets

  • 2 pounds crappie fillets
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1-1/2 cups cracker meal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Peanut oil

Directions:

Beat the eggs until frothy, then add the buttermilk and mix. Dip fish fillets in this mixture, then roll in a mixture of the remaining four ingredients. Deep fry until golden-brown in peanut oil heated to 375 degrees.

Pan-fried Bream Dilly

  • 6 bream, pan-dressed (scaled, gutted, heads removed)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

Directions:

Melt butter in a skillet and add dill. Dredge fish in a mixture of flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. Sauté in dill butter until done.

Sautéed Sauger

  • 10 sauger fillets (about 4 to 6 ounces each)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1-1/2 cups Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Soak the fish in buttermilk for 30 minutes. Remove, and dredge in a mixture of the bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Fry the fillets in a combination of the butter and olive oil heated in a skillet. Add more butter and olive oil as needed. Fry until golden brown, or until the thickest part of the fish is easily flaked with a fork.

Tempura Bass

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 well-beaten egg
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 2 pounds bass fillets, cut in serving-size pieces

Directions:

Combine first five ingredients. Beat egg and water together, add the dry mix and stir until smooth. Dip fish fillets in batter, and deep-fry until golden-brown in cooking oil heated to 375 degrees.

Catfish Stir-fry

  • 1 pound catfish fillets, cut in one-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons sesame or peanut oil
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 zucchini squash, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil, and add vegetables and thyme. Stir-fry until slightly tender. Season catfish with pepper and add to the pan. Stir-fry until fish is opaque and flakes easily. Serve over a bed of hot rice.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tackle Test 2020: Eagle Claw EC2.5 Spinning Reel

Tackle Test 2020: Eagle Claw EC2.5 Spinning Reel

Tackle Test 2020: Eagle Claw EC2.5 Spinning Reel

Tackle Test 2020: Lew

Tackle Test 2020: Lew's Pro-Ti Speed Stick

Tackle Test 2020: Lew's Pro-Ti Speed Stick

VMC Crossover Pliers and Rings

VMC Crossover Pliers and Rings

Quick and easy Neko and whacky rigging; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

Kevin VanDam Fishing Reels from Lew

Kevin VanDam Fishing Reels from Lew's

The Kevin VanDam LFS Baitcast reel ($139.99) comes in three models (6.2:1, 7.5:1, 8.3:1), with right- and left-hand retrieve, 10-bearing system with Zero Reverse one-way clutch, aluminum frame and spool, carbon fiber drag system, up to 20 pounds drag power.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing. Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Moms Demand Action Wants No Cops and No Guns

Game & Fish Staff - July 17, 2020

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews of smelly ingredients often used to catch catfish. Catfish

How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...

See More Trending Articles

More Fish

This Grilled Catfish with Tangy Orange Sauce Recipe is quick and easy to grill up. Fish

Grilled Catfish with Tangy Orange Sauce Recipe

Keith 'Catfish' Sutton

This Grilled Catfish with Tangy Orange Sauce Recipe is quick and easy to grill up.

This Crappie Scampi Recipe is a freshwater twist on the traditional shrimp dish. Fish

Quick Crappie Scampi Recipe

Raschell Rule

This Crappie Scampi Recipe is a freshwater twist on the traditional shrimp dish.

Fishing for eating-sized flatheads is an easy and fun way to supply an excellent fish fry. Catfish

Flathead Catfish for the Plate

Keith Sutton - June 05, 2020

Fishing for eating-sized flatheads is an easy and fun way to supply an excellent fish fry.

Start with evenly cut pieces of crappie fillets for this recipe. Fish

Quick Grilled Crappie Recipe

Keith 'Catfish' Sutton

Start with evenly cut pieces of crappie fillets for this recipe.

See More Fish

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now