This Is the Crispiest Fried Fish You'll Ever Eat
Having cut my teeth working at a seafood shack, I thought I knew everything there was to know about fried fish. That all changed when I ordered fish and chips to go from Automatic Seafood and Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama (a 2020 F&W Best New Restaurant). I popped the takeout lid to keep the fish from getting soggy, but I needn't have bothered -- this fish was designed to stay crispy on a drive home.
"This batter is made for travel," chef Adam Evans later told me as he walked me through the recipe at his restaurant. Instead of a more typical mild or white-fleshed fish like cod, Evans had gathered two kinds of rich-fleshed sustainable ocean fish for us to try: skin-on speckled trout and mahi-mahi. He dredged those fillets in a 1-to-1 ratio of tapioca starch and rice flour, which also made up his batter, along with garlic and onion powders, Korean chile flakes, and turmeric. Just before frying, Evans gently whisked in club soda to achieve a batter just thicker than heavy cream. "You want to be able to see the texture of the fish through the batter," advised Evans.
Emulating a tempura master, he carefully dipped one end of the battered fillet into the hot oil, dragging it across the surface until the batter began to sizzle and puff. He then gently lowered the fish into the oil, ensuring it would float before letting go. He flipped the fillets a few times as they fried before transferring them to a rack for a final seasoning. I waited as long as I could, passing the hot fish from hand to hand until I was confident it wouldn't burn my mouth. It was perfectly steamed, and the thin, crispy crust left no trace of oil on my fingers. Evans offered some malt vinegar and a lemon wedge, classic accompaniments for cutting through the greasiness of fried fish, but his needed neither. The freshness of the fish was immediately apparent, as was its flavor -- far richer than my go-to cod could ever be.
1. Dredge Fillets
Place seasoned fillets in dredge mixture, pressing mixture onto fish. Gently shake off excess.
2. Prepare Batter
Just before frying fish, whisk cold club soda into batter ingredients until well combined.
3. Batter Fillets
Working with one fillet at a time, dip fish in batter, turning until well coated.
4. Let Batter Drip Off Fillets
Remove fillets from batter, and allow excess batter to drip off, leaving a thin, even coating.
5. Fry Fish
Gently place two battered fillets in hot oil. Fry, turning occasionally with a fish spatula, until crispy and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Season and Hold Fish
Transfer cooked fish to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining fillets.