The examples here are Smelt, which I recommend, and Salay Salay which I
don't particularly recommend due to boniness. Smelt can
be eaten "head guts and feathers", though I usually gut them.
- If you're using a marinade, get your fish soaking in it in the fridge.
You want about 1/2 hour to 1 hour soak.
- Prepare any coating or batter you will use. The "Batter Line" photo
shows a buttermilk dip followed by a tumble in all-purpose flour. Just a
dusting of flour would do too.
- Make sure your fish is ready and dry. If it's been marinading, dry
off any marinade it hasn't absorbed.
- Bring your oil up to temperature. A long probed thermometer that goes to
at least 400°F/200°C is very useful here. The ideal temperature is
375°F/190°C. Keep your oil well below smoking temperature.
- Coat or batter just enough fish for one batch and just before putting it
in the oil or the batter will be soggy.
- Make sure your oil is at the right temperature and put the fish in
(being careful not to splash). Stir occasionally until sizzling decreases
and fish is lightly browned.
- Scoop out with a skimmer or other device that allows the pieces to drain
freely. Drain further on paper toweling and keep warm in the oven until ready
- Know Your Fish: (hints for many kinds of fish are in our
Varieties of Fish page. Some
fish stay firm and manageable while others tend break up. Coat
delicate fillets and chunks sufficiently to hold them together.
- Oil: Use a high temperature oil. I use Olive Pommace which has
a high smoke point and little olive flavor so it won't overpower your fish.
Peanut Oil is also pretty good. I don't use high polyunsaturated oils like
corn or soy which rapidly turn rancid when heated. For more information see
our Oils and Health page.
Don't use Extra Virgin or any other "unrefined" oil - they can't stand
- Temperature: Keep the temperature of your oil as close to
375°F/190°C as you can. Keep it well below smoking temperature at
- Don't Overload Your Oil: Fry in small batches so the temperature
doesn't drop too far or you'll end up with heavy, oily fish with a steamed
flavor. Small batches finish faster so it won't take all that much more
- Coating Fish: While I fry some fish naked, most fish I
give a light powdering of rice flour or all-purpose flour. Wheat flour will
produce a darker brown than rice flour.
- Batter for Fish: Many recipes call for coating fish with
batter, sometimes much too heavy a batter. We're not frying dumplings here,
we're frying fish. A quick dip in buttermilk followed by a dusting of lightly
salted (or seasoned) flour is generally plenty. Dipping in egg will make the
- Marinading: If you marinade fish, let them soak up the marinade for about 1/2 hour
in the refrigerator. Fish spoil fast - don't leave them out. If you use
leftover marinade for a sauce bring it to a high simmer for 5 minutes
in a saucepan to make sure it's safe
- Clean-up: Clean oil off your stove as soon as possible. heat will
dry the oil into varnish which becomes more difficult to remove with each
- Re-using Oil: Oil degrades with use, different oils at greatly
different rates. Polyunsaturated oils (corn, soy, "vegetable") degrade rapidly
and should not be reused while Olive is relatively durable. See the "Oxi"
column in our Oil Chart for relative
durability (low numbers are better). Oil that isn't yet tired and hasn't been
overheated can be used again within a reasonable time. Heat it long enough
it no longer "pops", indicating all water has been evaporated, then Filter it
still quite hot through one layer of plain (not printed) paper towel and
store in a tightly capped jar. Don't use oil used for fish to fry other
things (unless you like them fish flavored).
- Fryer: The ideal device for deep frying modest quantities
of just about anything is the Indian kadhai, similar to a wok but with
somewhat different geometry. The sides are wide enough and high enough to
contain most of the splattering and it requires a very modest amount of oil
to fry a reasonable amount of fish. They do a lot of deep frying in India
and can't afford to waste oil.
- Basket Fryer: The Western basket fryer is an efficient and
effective device but requires quite a bit of oil and tends to splatter
a lot of oil about so be prepared to do clean-up, lots of clean-up.
- Skimmer: A wire skimmer will allow the fish to drain well as you
remove it from the oil.
- Thermometer A thermometer with a long probe that goes up to at
least 400°F/200°C is very helpful.