friday [saturday] fry: crispy batter-fried fish

My good friend Jon has been angling for a friday fry: fish edition for a while now, and for good reason: fried fish is a delicious thing. Like these tempura tacos, this fish is batter-fried. The result is a light, airy, almost steamed chunk of fish surrounded by a crispy, light coating. This is the fish that you want for fish and chips (more on the chips in a moment).

Fish and chips, tartar sauce, cole slaw, mushy peas, and a Newcastle. Happy Cinco de Mayo!


My research consisted mostly of watching this episode of Throwdown! with Bobby Flay! and reading lots of Cook’s Illustrated before coming up with my own batter mix. Here are a few key points:

  • You have to have something fizzy in the batter. But while “beer battered” sounds great on a menu, seltzer water works even better. I made super-fizzy seltzer with my Twist ‘N Sparkle (, but you can use a can or bottle. Just make sure that your seltzer is really cold.
  • The type of fish matters, but not as much as you think. Cod would be the best, but tilapia, easily purchased in the frozen section of any supermarket, is good too. Halibut would be awesome, but who wants to pay $30/lb. for fried fish?
  • You want to make your batter pretty highly seasoned. I’m not a big fan of black pepper with fish, so I add a decent pinch of cayenne along with the salt. A little coriander wouldn’t be unwelcome either.
  • Rice flour is key. Rice flour is available in Asian markets and natural grocery stores. It doesn’t get tough the way regular flour does, and is essential to a light, crispy batter.

fish fry

hand-cut fries

draining rig

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the fries. Proper English fish and chips features thick, hand-cut potatoes that are a bit limper than regular “french fries”. I tried to make some English chips and while they were totally passable, it wasn’t worth the extra effort. Until I perfect my french fry recipe, I’m going to continue buying bags of frozen fries from the grocery store and frying them myself (directions below). This works pretty well: the bagged frozen spuds are par-fried at the factory and only require a few minutes in hot oil to get crispy, oily, and delicious.

Fish and chips night! Walter approves of the chips.

Finally: accompaniments. I came up with a tartar sauce that I’m pretty damn proud of, relying on the traditional pickles and capers and a SECRET INGREDIENT (fish sauce) for extra oomph. Traditionally, fish and chips are also served with mushy peas which are basically dried peas that have had the crap cooked out of them. Looking to clear out our freezer, I cooked a bag of frozen petite peas with some butter, salt, and sugar until they were an appealing mushiness. For a much-needed fresh item on the plate, we made a quick slaw with shredded cabbage, carrots, mayonnaise, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and Sriracha. These are totally optional go-alongs – the fish would also be great with some lightly cooked greens or a salad.

mushy peas!


Homemade tartar sauce!

As I said above, fish doesn’t keep super-well. But if you find yourself with leftovers, wrap them somewhat loosely in paper and place in an open plastic bag in your fridge. The next day, you can warm up the fish in a dry nonstick pan over medium heat; the crust will crisp up a bit and the fish will still be plenty moist. Heat up some tortillas and make a couple of tacos with fish chunks, leftover slaw, tartar sauce, and a couple avocado slices and you have yourself some tacos that are so Southern California that they just beg for a washed-out Instagram photo.

Upcycled fish and chips = taco lunch.

Crispy Batter-Fried Fish with “Chips”

makes 12 portions of fish, enough for 4 hungry people or 6 not-as-hungry people


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander, optional
  • about 1/2 cup cornstarch, or more if needed
  • 12 ounces ice-cold seltzer water or club soda
  • 1 1/2 pounds white fish, such as tilapia, pollack, halibut, or cod), cut into about 12 chunks
  • Oil, for deep frying (you’re going to need at least 2 quarts – you want the oil to come up just under halfway up your pot)
  • 1 bag frozen french fries (optional)


Mix the flour, rice flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne, and optional coriander in a medium bowl. Place the cornstarch in small bowl or pie plate and set aside. Get your fish ready and preheat your oil to about 350 degrees. Set the oven to 200 degrees.

When you’re ready to fry, dredge about 4 pieces of fish in the cornstarch. Working one at a time, dip each one in the batter and then carefully place in the hot oil. Repeat with all 4 pieces of fish. Cook, stirring gently and regulating the heat to make sure the oil stays around 325 degrees. When the fish is golden-brown, it’s done. Remove it to a sheet pan lined with paper towels and a wire cooling rack. Place in the oven and repeat with the rest of your fish.

When the fish is all cooked, make your fries. Bring the oil up to about 400 degrees and keep the temperature on high, as it’s going to drop a bit when the frozen fries hit the oil. Place a large handful of fries in the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are crispy (maintain oil temperature of about 375 degrees). This should take about 3-4 minutes. As soon as the fries are done, transfer them to a paper towel-lined bowl and toss with salt, then transfer to a cooling rack set in a baking sheet while you cook the rest of the fries.

If the fish seems less-than crispy by the time you’re done with the fries, you can put it back in the hot oil for about a minute before serving, just to crisp it up again.

Repeat as needed for the rest of the fries.

Tartar with Scallions and Fish Sauce

  • 1 c mayo
  • 4 scallions with greens (trim off the roots)
  • 1/4 c capers
  • 1/4 c cornichons
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 1 t fish sauce
  • 3/4 t pepper
  • salt to taste (you probably won’t need any with the capers and fish sauce)

If you have a blender, food processor, or stick blender here is the place to use it: combine everything and whiz until smooth. If you don’t have a blender, finely mince the scallions, capers, and cornichons, then stir everything to combine. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and keep in the fridge for up to a few weeks.


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