Flaky, tender white fish surrounded by a crunchy but delicate beer batter so good you could eat it on its own - with fries or a salad - but everything’s better in a sandwich. This fried fish sandwich foregoes the obvious British fish-and-chips flavors and pairs the fish instead with some Middle-Eastern inspired condiments: a rich, garlicky tahini sauce with a big hit of lemon and a sticky, sweet and warmly spiced harissa tomato jam.
The best fish to use for deep frying in a beer batter is any firm white fish such as cod, halibut, haddock or tilapia.
You could use any beer for the beer batter, though I’d stay away from very dark, thick beers like porters or stouts and choose a light beer you enjoy the taste of. If you don’t want to cook with beer, try using another carbonated beverage - I’ve even made this recipe successfully with a can of sprite.
Brioche buns are my favorite sandwich buns to use for these sandwiches. I’ve found it relatively easy to find a decent store-bought brioche bun, though they are pricier than a standard hamburger bun. If you’re feeling ambitious enough to make the buns yourself, (making lots and freezing them ahead of time makes DIY sandwich rolls into a less daunting project) I’ve had success with both this brioche bun recipe from King Arthur baking and this light brioche bun recipe from New York Times Cooking.
How to Get Beer Battered Fried Fish Crispy (And Keep it That Way).
- Remove as much moisture as you can from the surface of the fish before dredging it in the flour. Pat it with a paper towel, season it with salt and pepper and transfer it to the fridge for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the batter station and heat up the oil. Pat the surface of the fish dry again just before using.
- Make sure your beer is cold. If you’ve got your batter made but the oil is not up to temperature yet, transfer the batter to the refrigerator to keep it cool until the oil is ready.
- Get the oil temperature right. Fish should be fried between 350F and 375F. If your oil is not hot enough, the fish will come out soggy. Using a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil is the best way to ensure your fried fish comes out the way you want it to.
- Fry your fish pieces in batches. Too many pieces of fish in the oil at once will lower the temperature of the oil too much, which may result in soggy fish.
- After frying, allow air to circulate around the fish until you’re ready to serve. Set a cooling rack inside a sheet pan and place the fish on the rack as it comes out of the hot oil (and don’t forget to season generously with salt while the fish is still hot).
Tips for Deep Frying Safely at Home
- Use the right equipment. A large, heavy bottomed pot with high sides, large enough so the oil is no more than 1/3 to ½ of the way to the top of the pot. I like to use my Dutch oven. You will also want to have good quality oven mitts, and tongs or a spider, with long handles. It’s also a good idea to wear long sleeves and socks to protect yourself from splatters or drips.
- Use a thermometer, ideally one that clips to the side of your pot, to monitor the temperature of the oil, both to ensure the fish is cooked at the proper temperature - between 350 and 375 - and to keep your at home deep frying adventure a safe one. If, at any point, your thermometer reads above 375, or your oil begins to smoke, it is getting too hot. Carefully remove the pot from the heat and wait for it to cool down to the right temperature before returning it to the heat and resuming frying.
- Don’t leave the kitchen during the cooking process. Deep frying fish only takes about 6-8 minutes per batch of fish after the oil heats up. Keep your full attention on the oil during this time. This is not the time to get started on the dishes or run upstairs to get something.
- To be on the safe side, brush up on your kitchen grease fire safety rules.
Make-Ahead, Storage & Reheating
- Any dish that involves setting up a batter or breading station is going to be somewhat of a production and make a big mess. If you do it right, it’s usually worth it, (like with these vegan buffalo cauliflower), but be prepared for beer battered hands and messy counters. If, in addition to frying the fish, you want to go with homemade buns or condiments, it’s a good idea to have them made ahead of time, so the day you make your sandwiches you can just focus on the frying. Both the tahini sauce and tomato relish can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in the refrigerator. I love having fresh rolls made in advance, but I wouldn’t make fresh rolls more than one day before I intended to use them - unless I planned to freeze them. Set frozen sandwich rolls on the counter earlier in the day to defrost.
- Let’s face it, deep fried fish is not the ideal leftover food. It’s best eaten on the day it’s made, and really, even better eaten as soon as it’s made. If you nevertheless find yourself with leftover beer battered fish, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use within 3 days.
- If you’re going to reheat fried fish, step away from the microwave! It’s fast, but will leave your fish a soggy, sad, vestige of its former crispy self. Preheat the oven to 350F, set the fish on a cooling rack placed on a sheet pan and put the whole thing into the oven until the fish is heated through to the center, about 10-15 minutes.
Condiments and Toppings to Serve with Fried Fish Sandwiches
Fancy sandwiches like these are complete hand-held meals that are endlessly customizable. This recipe was inspired by the technique of cooking fish (and other proteins) in tahini sauce that can be found in some Middle Eastern cuisines. Yotam Ottolenghi does a lamb and beef kofta in tahini sauce in Jerusalem, as does Sami Tamimi in Falastin where there is also a recipe for white fish baked in tahini sauce. And Rawia Bishara, in Olives Lemon & Za’atar, describes “fish-fries” of Nazareth, where people gather to dig into platefuls of small crispy fish, fried whole, dipping them into tahini sauce. But, there are plenty of options for how to “sandwich” this beer battered fried fish:
- Go for a Middle Eastern Inspired sandwich, like I’ve done here. I’ve added a harissa tomato jam to the sandwich to serve as a sort of chopped salad component, similar to the ones commonly served in Israeli, Persian or Palestinian cuisines. In that vein, you could also add some shaved cucumber, tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper, to the sandwich for more crunch and freshness. And, If you’re missing the tangy flavor of a tartar sauce, squeeze some lemon juice over the fish as you assemble the sandwiches.
- Go for a classic British “fish and chips” sandwich. If you want to go for flavors more reminiscent of a British style fish and chips, skip the tahini sauce and tomato jam and serve these sandwiches with a cabbage slaw and tartar sauce. You could serve the sandwiches alongside fries, but I find the brioche buns and fried batter are enough of a carb element.
Another Sandwich-for-dinner option that features tangy slaw - these pulled pork sandwiches with kohlrabi slaw
- Make them quick and easy. Battering and deep frying fish is already a bit of a process. If you’re in a hurry or want fried fish for a last minute weeknight meal, skip the homemade sauces and keep it simple with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, pickles and ketchup, mayonnaise or store-bought tartar sauce. Depending on how you feel about fish and cheese, you could even add a slice of American cheese.
Frequently Asked Questions about Deep Fried Fish
How to Get Batter to Stick
Batter sticks better to dry fish. If you are having trouble getting your batter to stick when you fry fish, make sure the surface of the fish is dry, and always dredge the fish into dry flour - ensuring that the entire surface of the fish is coated in a thin layer of flour and shaking off the excess - before dipping it into the wet batter.
You also want to make sure the batter is the right consistency - not too thick and not too thin. This may take some trial and error, but I like to make sure my batter is the consistency of a slightly runny pancake batter.
Finally, carefully drop the battered fish (using your hands, not tongs, that may rip off some of the flour and batter coating) into oil that is the correct temperature - between 350F and 375F.
Can you Reuse Frying Oil?
Unless my oil is very dark after frying, I will reuse it several times. Deep frying uses a lot of oil to just throw it out after one use. I strain any solids from the oil and store it in a glass jar or other airtight container in a cool dry place until the next time I want to deep fry. I keep oil that has been used to fry fish separate from oil that has been used to fry things like chicken cutlets or falafel to avoid imparting a fishy flavor to other foods.
When I’m ready to dispose of the oil, I either pour it into a plastic bag or other disposable container and throw it into the garbage or freeze it solid and then dispose of it. Never dump used cooking oil down the drain.
No recipe reinvents the wheel. This one was inspired by and adapted from this fish frying technique at serious eats, the food and culture writing and tahini sauce in Olives Lemons & Za’atar, and A Fork and a Pencil’s tomato relish.
For the Tahini Sauce
- ¾ cup tahini
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup water
For the Fish
- 12 oz haddock, cod or other firm white fish fillet(s), cut into four 3 oz portions
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the fish
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1- 1 ¼ cup light beer
- 1 ½ quarts canola oil
For Assembling the Sandwiches
- 4 sandwich buns (preferably brioche)
- 1/3 head iceberg lettuce, shredded.
- Juice of a lemon (to serve, if desired)
- Tomato relish (recipe for homemade here), or store bought
- Make the tahini sauce: (Can be made ahead) add tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt to a blender or food processor. Blend until all of the ingredients are mixed together and the sauce thickens and lightens in color. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. The sauce should be on the thick side. Transfer to a clean jar and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Bring to room temperature before serving.
- Prepare the fish: Portion the fish filets and pat dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper, set on a plate and transfer to the refrigerator until ready to fry.
- Set up the batter station: Set two large bowls on your counter. To the first, add ½ cup of flour, to the second, whisk together the remaining cup of flour, cornstarch, baking powder, paprika, salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil: In a large heavy-bottomed pot with high sides (such as a Dutch oven), heat the oil to between 365F – 370F over medium-high heat. Get the temperature right: 350F is the temperature you want the oil to be for cooking the fish. But adding foods to the oil lowers its temperature. If the temperature gets too low, your fish will be greasy and soggy. To account for this, before adding each batch of fish, bring the temperature a bit higher than 350F, check the temperature of the oil with a thermometer after adding the fish. After each batch, allow the oil to come back up to about 365 before adding in the next batch.
- Add the beer and batter the fish: Add the beer to the bowl with the cornstarch. Start with 1 cup, and then add more if necessary to get the right consistency - similar to a slightly runny pancake batter. Dredge each piece of fish until each portion is lightly coated with flour on both sides. Shake off any excess flour.
- Fry the fish: When the oil reaches 365F, work in batches to transfer the pieces of flour-coated fish to the bowl with the beer batter and turn each piece to coat. Allow excess batter to drip off, then coat again lightly in the flour and gently lower the fish into the hot oil, making sure to drop the first end of the fish portion into the oil close to you, and the other further away from you, so any splatter will go towards the back of the oven, not towards you. The oil will sputter and bubble, this is fine, make sure to continually monitor the temperature. Cook, carefully turning periodically with a long-handled spider or tongs, till the batter around the fish is puffy and golden brown and the fish is cooked through, about 6-8 minutes total. Carefully remove the fish from the oil with a long-handled slotted spoon, spider, or tongs, and set aside on the reserved cookie sheet. Immediately season both sides of each fish portion generously with salt. Repeat the process with the remaining 2 fish portions.
- Assemble the Sandwiches: To assemble the sandwiches, generously coat the bottom bun with a layer of tahini sauce, top with shredded iceberg lettuce, a portion of fish (cut in half if necessary to fit on bun), a squeeze of lemon, if desired, a few spoonfuls of the tomato relish, and the top bun. Serve immediately.