If you’re a good Catholic (or just married to one, or, like not a good Catholic even, but do Mass on all the big holidays), chances are Friday fish fry dinners are now officially in full swing as we’re a few weeks into Lent and you’re eating fillets on the regs. No matter how delicious your go-to recipe is, if you’re observing Lent you’re probably getting sick of the same old fish fry fillets every week by the time April rolls around. But there’s no need to pore over cookbooks to find some much needed inspiration to spice up your fish fry dinner. Instead, we combed through other countries’ fish fry traditions and unearthed all sorts of different techniques, food, and flavors to give your red snapper or tilapia a kick. Many of the techniques also work for anything golden and crispy, from onion rings to chicken, so you’ll have plenty of meals to add to your weekly dinner menu once Easter finally comes.
Mediterranean Pescado Frito
Pescado frito, which is Spanish for “fried fish,” is usually made with a white fish like cod, sea bass, or red snapper. It’s dredged in flour, deep fried in olive oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper. In countries like Spain or Greece it’s common to fry the whole fish, even if it’s homemade, but fillets work too if you’re cooking for more squeamish eaters who can’t handle eyeballs. With just four simple ingredients, pescado frito is especially popular among the Mediterranean coast in places like Spain and Greece, as well as Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Peru, which each has its own favors, types of fish, and side dishes. The simple flour-and-oil fry is also used for fried anchovies.
Southern Fried Catfish
A quintessential Southern dish, Southern fried fish is beloved for its distinctive cornmeal batter, which gives the fish a light, crisp bite. Southern-style fish usually always involves catfish, an underdog type of fish that actually has a mild flavor and is the perfect springboard for frying. The ratio of cornmeal-to-flour varies depending on who you ask, but most batters also call for an extra kick of paprika and cayenne. And don’t forget the side of hot sauce and lemon when serving.
British Beer Batter
Often said to be inspired by pescado frito, there’s no denying that fish ‘n chips has become a central part of British food culture. Unlike the barely-there flour breading used in pescado frito, beer-battered fish leans into the crispy golden coat (see beer-battered haddock). The most common batter involves flour, baking powder (which gives the coating a light airiness, almost like a funnel cake), and pale lager or ale. Some recipes also call for spices like garlic powder or paprika, and others play around with the type of beer. The best part about beer batter is that it works for all kinds of different foods other than fish. It’s fail-proof for anything from onion rings and vegetables to sweet apple fritters.
Okay, quick disclaimer—there isn’t really a strict formula to a New England fried fish, but the most commonly used batter is arguably a simple mixture of flour, milk, eggs, and baking powder. Basically, it’s beer batter without the beer. The most commonly used fish are haddock and cod, since they’re local catches, but any type of firm fish works too. Whereas beer batter makes for a kind of shiny, smooth outer layer, this batter is more thick and flaky. The debate over which method is best has raged for some time, so we suggest doing both and hosting an impromptu taste test.
Tempura is probably the most commonly-known Japanese fry method outside of Japan, but a deep frying technique called tatsuta-age is more often used for fish. Fillets are first marinated in soy sauce or mirin before they’re coated. Unlike tempura, which uses an egg and flour batter, tatsuta-age calls for just a light, barely-there dusting of potato starch or cornstarch, resulting in a thinner and chewy crust (we use rice flour). The marinade also brings out the sweetness of the fish, and will definitely shake-off any fried fish-malaise you might be feeling.
There are a wealth of different fried fish recipes from India, but we’re honing in on one particular dish called “meen porichathu.” The exact components vary depending on who you speak to, but the basic formula is quite simple—just a marinade of bright, flavorful spices and (occasionally) a bit of rice flour. The base is almost always garlic, ginger, and chiles, which is then mixed with spices like turmeric and chilli powder. From there, simply coat the fish and fry. The recipe’s flexibility means that you can easily adjust to fit your heat tolerance and use whatever happens to be in your pantry.
If you love schnitzel, you’ll love fish Milanese. They share the same egg-and-breadcrumb breading, which gives the fish a hearty, golden outside that makes for perfect comfort food for rainy spring days. Though regular white breadcrumbs are most commonly used, some recipes suggest using panko for a lighter and crispier crust. Think of it in schnitzel-terms and seek out larger, thinner fish fillets, like flounder or tilapia. Pair with a tangy squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a side of arugula to balance out the heaviness.
Caribbean-Style Fried Fish
Spice is the name of the game in Caribbean fried fish, which is liberally added to both the batter and the fish. The process begins with a quick rinse with something acidic, like lemon or lime juice (a common practice meant to kill bacteria and get rid of odor). Next comes a generous marinade. As with Indian-style fried fish, the exact components vary depending on palette and region, but it usually involves garlic paste and pepper sauce. The fish is then coated in a flour-based batter, mixed with spices like cumin or curry powder, and fried. The result is a flavor-packed fish, with each layer of acidity and spice playing off the last.
Pla Tod Kamin
Unlike many of the other recipes on this list, Thai-style tumeric fish doesn’t use any flour or batter. The fish, most commonly red snapper, is simply marinated in a mixture of turmeric and garlic, and then fried. Because of this, the taste of the fish really shines through, so make sure you’re seeking out high-quality seafood. This is also the time to use the fresh turmeric root that you impulse bought after you heard about all of its health benefits. The best part about this recipe is that it makes its own garnish. Just fry up the seasonings (some people also add herbs like lemongrass) and pour over the fish.
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