For the lightest, crispiest fried fish, you can’t beat Beer Battered Fish. The yeast and carbonation in beer makes the fish batter delicate and puffy, like at good fish ‘n chip shops. Meanwhile the shock of ice-cold batter hitting hot oil makes it super-crispy – and what’s more, it stays crispy for ages.
Don’t believe me? Just LISTEN to the crunch in the recipe video!
While the rest of the world is resolving to eat healthier and lose more weight right now as the New Year kicks off, I thought it would be funny to start out 2021 with a deep-fried recipe instead. But then earlier this week, many of you told me you wanted more healthy meals this year … so now it’s not so funny. But if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. So I’m laughing!! 😂
Crispy Beer Battered Fish
When it comes to fish, a fry batter made with beer yields the best result for a light, puffy, ultra crispy coating that stays crispy well beyond the time it takes to serve and eat it.
It’s the fish batter used by all the best fish ‘n chips shops. Here’s what makes beer batter so good:
- Yeast and carbonation in beer acts like yeast in bread, making the batter go puffy as it cooks so it’s thin and light rather than thick and greasy. It’s like Japan’s famous tempura;
- Ice cold beer is used to make the batter cold. The shock of cold batter hitting the hot oil makes it go super-crispy. This concept is fairly common knowledge these days in the culinary world, a technique deployed in all my batter-coated fried foods such as everybody’s favourite Honey Chicken; and
- Rice flour for a stay-crispy batter. Just using normal flour doesn’t cut it – it goes soggy within minutes. We need to use a combination of rice and normal flour. This is a proven technique deployed in many Asian fried recipes, such as Honey Chicken and Sweet & Sour Pork.
This battered fish has a light crisp coating that stays crispy for over 15 minutes!
What goes in Beer Batter
All you need for beer batter is cold beer, flour, rice flour, baking powder and salt. For a non alcoholic version, just substitute beer with soda water.
Beer Batter Dry Ingredients
Rice flour – Key for a fish batter that doesn’t go soggy before it hits the table! If you use only wheat flour, it will only stay crispy for a few minutes. Why not use all rice flour? Because rice flour doesn’t go golden when cooked. Nobody wants a pale, white beer battered fish! So we use a combination of wheat flour (which goes golden) and rice flour.
Flour – Just plain/all purpose wheat flour which, as noted above, is what makes the fish go a beautiful golden colour as well as helping the batter rise and puff when combined with the baking powder (which doesn’t happen with rice flour); and
Baking powder – To make the batter puffy. The yeast and carbonation in beer alone isn’t sufficient to achieve that airy-textured batter shell you get at the best fish ‘n chip shops.
Best beer for Beer Batter
You can use any beer other than dark, heavily flavoured beer like stouts or porters as they will discolour and flavour the batter excessively.
Pale ale and lagers are most commonly used, but I’ve used all sorts in my time and they’ve all worked out fine. You can only barely taste it – the beer is mostly to make the batter crispy and puffy, not for flavour. Also, the alcohol cooks out in the hot oil.
Whatever you use, it needs to be ice cold – cool for 2+ hours in the fridge. It’s key for a crispy batter!
Best fish for frying
You can use virtually any white fish fillet such as: snapper, barramundi, cod, flathead, tilapia, hake, haddock, whiting and ling.
My favourite is flathead – but it’s pricey! See list below for what fish shops use in different countries.
I recommend avoiding:
- Fish that dry out easily when cooked – Like swordfish, tuna, bonito, kingfish, marlin. They work fine, but they will be too dry inside. These fish are (mostly) better in raw/rare form such as Ceviche, Poke Bowls, Tartare or carefully grilled;
- Delicate and thin-filleted fish – Like flounder or sole. Again, it will work fine and actually, it is delicious but the texture of the flesh may be a bit too delicate for frying (ie you bite into it and the flesh kind of “crumbles”). Also these fish tend to be very thin fillets;
- Oily fish – Like salmon, trout, mackerels, mullet and sardines. You do see these fish in fried form, but it’s not so common with a batter. It’s just a bit too rich.
What fish and chip shops use
Choice of fish varies between countries and regions, depending on what’s available. Most common:
- Australia – Basa, hoki, flake (gummy shark!) and hake are seen at everyday suburban fish ‘n chip shops because they are economical options with good flavour and flesh characteristics. Better places will also offer more expensive options such as snapper, barramundi, cod, whiting and flathead (my favourite!);
- US – Cod, halibut, tilapia, haddock. In the Southeast, catfish is used frequently; and
- UK – [updated thanks to reader feedback!] Cod and haddock are firm favourites, but other varieties offered include hake, pollock, whiting and plaice.
How to make beer battered fish
Oil heating aside, beer battered fish takes 5 minutes to prepare, and each batch takes 3 minutes to fry. Terrifically fast!
- Dry & cut fish – Dry fillets well, especially if using thawed frozen fish because it will leech water while defrosting. This is key to crispy fish, so don’t shortcut this!
Cut into desired size. I like “fish cocktail” size – 7 x 3cm / 3 x 1 1/4″ batons – because it’s easier to handle for frying plus has a larger surface area to volume ratio = more crunch! Whole or larger fillets work just fine as well, ie. traditional fish ‘n chip shop format.
If your fish is very thick (3cm / 1.25″+), slice horizontally to make thinner pieces, otherwise the fish may not cook through by the time the batter is golden and crispy. Also, there will be too much fish and not enough crispy batter!
Just remember the batter puffs up when cooking to double the thickness it was wet so don’t make giant fish pieces! 😂
- Start heating oil – Heat oil to 190°C/375°F. Hot oil is key to ensure the fish doesn’t end up soggy and greasy. Use a large, heavy-based pot for safety purposes, for even heating of oil and better heat retention. You can of course use an electric fryer if you have one!
- Rice flour coating – Dust fish with rice flour, shaking off excess. This is an additional crispiness insurance policy, which will soak up any residual moisture on the flesh of the fish. I use rice flour because it cooks up more crisp than flour.
- Make batter just before frying so it’s as cold and fizzy as possible. If it’s a hot day, take extra precautions such as chilling the bowl and dry ingredients until required.
The other reason batter should be made fresh is the batter will noticeably thicken as gluten begins to forms if left to sit too long.
At this stage the fish can sit there while the oil comes to temperature.
Note: Recipe makes more batter than you will need. But it’s hard to dredge properly if you don’t have enough. It can cause a dragging action that wipes off too much batter. However, recipe will coat up to around 1kg/2lb of fish.
5. Minimum of whisking – Only whisk for 5 seconds, just to incorporate the beer into the dry ingredients – some lumps are fine, even desirable. Over-whisking activates gluten and will compromise crispiness.
Batter viscosity is also important. If the wet batter is too thick (in consistency) your cooked batter will be thick (in depth) around the fish and tends to soak up too much oil. Too watery on the other hand and it won’t coat the fish properly, and will go soggy quickly. Aim for a batter that runs but fully coats the back of a spoon – see video.
6. Dredge fish – Hold fillet by one end and dip in batter, letting the excess drip off for a second or two. The batter should fully cover the fish but not be a thick coat as mentioned – this batter puffs up a LOT!
TIP: Keep batter chilled. If you’re a capable cook and it’s mild weather, the batter can stay out while you cook the fish (3 – 4 batches). If you’re new to frying or it’s a stinking hot summer day, pop the batter back in the fridge while frying.
7. Fry 3 minutes – Gently lower fillet into the hot oil, dropping it in away from you, not towards you, so any splash doesn’t come towards your hand. I use my hands because I have more control, but you can use tongs for safety if you prefer.
Cook for 3 minutes until deep golden. There’s no need to turn, though you can push down and submerge each piece under the oil briefly once the batter has set. Fillets often refuse to roll anyway as they become buoyant on one side only!;
8. Drain well on paper towels or a mesh rack, and repeat with remaining fish.
How longer the fish stays crispy for – It will stay crispy for 15 to 20 minutes, even after it goes cold. But obviously, best served hot!
Handy large-batch cooking tip
Using a 1-minute, higher temperature, Asian double-fry method used in things like Honey Chicken and Sweet & Sour Pork, you can make big batches of beer battered fish and serve it all up piping hot! Here’s how:
- First fry: Only cook the fish for 2½ minutes until it is golden and crispy, but not deep golden like pictured. Leave to drain, continue with remaining fish;
- Second fry: This is to reheat, as well as make it deep golden and stay-crispy. Increase oil temperature to 200°C/390°F. Add fish and fry for 1 minute until deep golden. For Fry #2, you can crowd the oil more (ie. if you cooked fish in 4 batches, you can do this in 2 batches). Drain and repeat with remaining fish. Voila! All fish are piping hot!
“Where are the chips???“
You will probably be annoyed to read that I haven’t included the recipe for the crispy chips you spy in the photos. 😇
Sorry folks, but this is because I haven’t finalised it yet. My approach a little different to the usual recipes because the idea is you can cook chips WITH the fish, so you can cook up a serving of fish and chips in one go. Ordinarily, chip recipes call for a double fry which takes up to 8 minutes total, then you have to keep it warm in the oven – inevitably it loses crispiness. It’s also a lot of juggling and takes forever if you’re cooking for more than 2 people.
So I’m on a mission for chips you can cook at the same time as the fish so you get BOTH piping hot and crispy.
It will be worth the wait, I promise! In the meantime, use my baked wedges (also handy because they’re made in the oven).
Sauces for fried fish
Many options – and don’t let anyone tell you what is right or wrong!
- Lemon wedges – A squeeze of lemon is always welcome and many people are happy with just this;
- Tartare sauce – I like to make mine extra lemony when using it for fried foods;
- Any seafood dipping sauce – Find all my favourites here;
- Aioli (garlicky mayonnaise);
- Yogurt mixed with lemon – For a lighter option, though somewhat ironic when making fried fish!
- Ketchup or Aussie tomato sauce;
- Malt vinegar and a sprinkle of salt – The British way!
Though frankly, if you’ve got really good fish and you season every layer lightly, then you’ll munch it plain and won’t even think about a dipping sauce!
If, like me, you don’t fry much – oil wastage, clean up and all that jazz – and are on the fence about whether it’s worth making homemade fried fish, remember this: crispy battered fried fish is one of those things that you simply cannot buy in frozen convenience packets.
And it’s one of those things you cannot convert into an oven version – or an airfyer!.
So, is it worth making? YES, a thousand times over!!– Nagi x
Watch how to make it
And LISTEN to the CRUNCH!
Crispy Beer Battered Fish
- 700g/ 1.4lb white fish fillets , like flathead, snapper, whiting, cod, tilapia, flathead (skinless, boneless, Note 1)
- ¼ cup rice flour (Note 2)
Crispy Fish Batter:
- ¾ plain/all purpose flour
- ¼ rice flour (makes it super crispy, Note 2)
- 1¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup very cold beer , anything other than dark beers like stout, porter etc (Note 3)
- 4 – 5 cups peanut oil (or vegetable, canola or cottonseed oil)
- Tartare Sauce
- Lemon Wedges
- Chips or wedges
- Dry & cut fish: Pat fish dry using paper towels or a tea towel. Cut into 7 x 3cm / 3 x 1¼" batons, or larger fillets if you prefer. If you have very thick fillets, cut in half horizontally (Note 1)
- Dusting bowl: Place ¼ cup rice flour in a shallow bowl.
- Heat oil: Heat 6cm / 2" – 3" oil in a large heavy based pot over medium high heat to 190°C/375°F.
- Salt & dust: While oil is heating, sprinkle 3 or 4 pieces of fish with a pinch of salt, then coat in rice flour and shake off excess. You can leave them like this for up to 10 minutes.
- Cold batter: Just before cooking, whisk together the flour, rice flour, baking powder and salt. Add very cold beer into the batter and whisk just until incorporated evenly into the flour. Do not over-mix, do not worry about flour lumps (Note 4). It should be a fairly thin batter but fully coat the back of a spoon. If too thick, add beer 1 tsp at a time.
- Dredge fish: Dunk a piece of fish in the batter, the let the excess drip off very briefly.
- Fry 3 minutes: Carefully lower into oil, dropping it in away from you, one piece at a time. Don't crowd the pot; fry in batches. Fry for 3 minutes, flipping after about 2 minutes, until deep golden.
- Drain: Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining fish. Serve hot! However it will stay crisp for 15 – 20 minutes. (Note 5 for larger batch cooking).
1. Fish for frying – You can use virtually any white fish fillet such as: hoki, whiting, snapper, barramundi, cod, flathead (my favourite!), tilapia, hake, haddock and ling. Fish to avoid: Meaty fish prone to drying out (like swordfish, tuna), delicate or thin fish (like flounder or sole). I personally wouldn’t use oily fish like salmon, but it works just fine. Cutting: Recipe works for fish cocktail size pieces (ie. pick-up-and-dunk size), batons or whole fillet sizes. Remember that the batter puffs up considerably when fried. If your fish is very thick (3cm / 1.25″+), cut in half horizontally to make thinner pieces, otherwise the fish may not cook through by the time the batter is golden and crispy. Also the ratio of fish to batter will be too high. 2. Rice flour – Essential ingredient for a really good crispy batter, and to keep it crispy for a reasonable time (15 minutes+). If you only use normal wheat flour, it will go soggy within minutes. Find it in the baking aisle at the supermarket. Substitute with cornflour/cornstarch or potato starch (not quite as crispy, but still crispier than using only plain flour). 3. Beer: Must be ice cold, in fridge 2 hours+. Key for crispy batter! Best types: Pale ale and lagers are most commonly used, but I’ve used all sorts in my time and they’ve all worked out fine. Doesn’t really matter because you can’t taste it, but avoid dark, heavily flavoured beer like stout or porter (will discolour and flavour batter). Non alcoholic sub: Ice cold soda water + ¼ tsp extra baking powder. It’s basically the same as the batter used for Honey Chicken, slightly adapted to be suitable for fish. 4. Batter thickness: Thinner batter = crispy, delicate crust like you get at good fish and chip shops. 70% fish, 15% crispy batter, 15% empty cavern between fish and batter (the “puff”!). Thicker batter = thicker crust, which some people like, but I am disappointed if I bite in only to find it’s 50% batter, 20% fish, and 30% empty cavern! Do minimal whisking of batter, don’t worry about lumps, just make the beer mix through the flour evenly. If you over-mix, it will activate the gluten and the batter won’t be as light and delicate, it will be thicker, greasier and chewier. 5. Large Batch cooking: The nice thing here is that the fish cooks in 3 minutes so you can just keep them coming out. But if you want to do one large batch, you can do a double fry to reheat & it actually makes the batter less greasy because we use a higher heat (read up on this in my Stay-Crispy Honey Chicken): – First fry: Fry fish in batches for 2½ minutes until crispy and golden, but not a deep golden. Drain on paper towels, continue with remaining fish.
– Second fry: This is to reheat and make it deep golden and crispy. Increase oil temperature to 200°C/390°F. Add fish and fry for 1 minute until deep golden. For Fry #2, you can crowd the oil more (ie. if you cooked fish in 4 batches, you can do this in 2 batches). Drain and repeat with remaining fish. Voila! All fish, piping hot! 6. Reuse oil – Can be used twice more because flavour of batter is neutral, and doesn’t infuse oil with flavour. Cool oil in pot, line mesh colander with paper towel, strain oil. Store until required. I personally would stick to savoury uses rather than sweet. More fry-worth foods here. 7. Source – Partially adapted from this recipe by Chef John of Food Wishes. He knows his stuff, I trust him – and he’s pretty funny too! 8. Make ahead – Can’t be done I’m afraid! Fried fish will be soggy if reheated, and the batter needs to be made fresh. Sorry folks! 9. Nutrition per serving, assuming 4 servings. It’s nowhere near as bad as you think, and I have allowed for a very generous 1/3 cup of oil consumption (across whole recipe). There is no way the batter for 700g/1.4lb of fish will hold that much oil, but I’ve included it to be conservative, so actual calories will be far lower. Very little batter actually ends up on the fish, you will discard about half. It’s hard to make less and dredge properly.
Life of Dozer
Waiting to be asked to check if it’s crispy enough. See recipe video above for his assessment…….