Frying fish can be a delicious way to cook, but it often comes with the frustrating problem of fish sticking to the fryer basket. This can lead to lost coating, broken fish, and a big mess to clean up. Luckily, there are some simple tricks you can use to keep fish from adhering to the fryer basket.
Why Does Fish Stick to the Fryer Basket?
There are a few reasons why fish tends to stick to fryer baskets:
- The proteins in fish coagulate and contract when heated, causing the fish to cling to surfaces.
- Breading and batter can act as a glue, adhering to the small holes and imperfections in the basket’s mesh.
- Moisture released during cooking turns into steam which can’t escape through the crust, creating suction between the fish and basket.
These factors make it extra challenging to fry delicate fish without it sticking. But thankfully the sticking can be minimized with some simple preparations.
Tips to Prevent Fish Sticking
Use a Non-Stick Fryer Basket
The easiest solution is to use a high-quality non-stick fryer basket. These are made with a smooth, non-porous coating that prevents foods from adhering during frying. Look for fryer baskets made with non-stick coatings like ceramic, Teflon, or other proprietary blends.
Stainless steel fryer baskets can work too, but the minute imperfections in the weave are more likely to grab onto breading and batter. Make sure to thoroughly scrub and remove any residue from stainless steel baskets between uses.
Apply a Release Agent
If your fryer basket isn’t non-stick, you can give it a quick spray or brush of a release agent before adding the fish. Good options include:
- Vegetable oil: The same oil you fry with works great. Apply a light coat before heating the oil.
- Non-stick cooking spray: Quick spritzes of canola or olive oil spray prep the basket.
- Flour: A light dusting of flour or cornstarch creates a sheer barrier.
The release agent fills in the microscopic pores of the metal, keeping the fish from getting a foothold. Reapply as needed between batches.
Allow Excess Batter to Drip Off
Thick clumps of batter or breading are more likely to glue fish to the fryer basket. After coating the fish, hold it up above the bowl and let any excess drip off before frying. This reduces the buildup that causes sticking.
Fry in Smaller Batches
Overcrowding leads to pieces sticking together and adhering to the basket. Fry fish in smaller batches with 1-2 inches between pieces. This allows steam to escape and gives the batter room to set up properly.
Fry at the Proper Temperature
Heating the oil to the ideal frying temperature helps create a crispy, set crust faster. For most batters, heat oil to 350-375°F. Too low, and batter stays gluey. Too high, and coating browns too quickly and can tear.
Don’t Move Fish Too Soon
It’s tempting to nudge frying fish to check doneness, but moving it prematurely causes sticking. Allow the crust 2-3 minutes to initially set before gently flipping or stirring fish. Use tongs or a slotted spatula for easy handling.
Let Excess Oil Drain Off
After frying, hold the fish above the oil for 5-10 seconds so excess grease can drip off. This removes excess oil that could otherwise end up under the fish, keeping it from releasing.
Never stack freshly fried fish fillets or baskets on top of each other. This causes steam condensation that makes batter gummy. Instead, place fried fish on a wire rack or paper towel-lined sheet pan to allow air circulation.
What to Fry Fish In
Having the right fryer setup helps reduce sticking too. Here are good options:
Electric Deep Fryer
Counter-top electric fryers provide even heat distribution and precise temperature control. Models with rotating baskets gently tumble food for easy release. Look for fryers with dishwasher safe, non-stick baskets.
A heavy Dutch oven conducts heat evenly for crispy fried foods. Use one with a light interior coating to prevent sticking. Control temperature with a deep-fry thermometer.
A large, deep straight-sided skillet like a chicken fryer lets you fry in smaller batches. Match pan size to burner to maintain oil temperature. Skillets provide more handling access than smaller baskets.
A round-bottomed carbon steel wok creates a fast-heating fry zone. The sloped sides encourage released steam to escape up and away from the fish. Use a slotted spoon to remove fish from the oil.
The Best Batters for Avoiding Sticking
The coating you fry the fish in impacts release too. Here are good batter options:
The effervescence in beer batters creates a light, crispy crust that doesn’t cling. Lagers like Pilsner work well. The carbonation induces small air pockets that prevent suction.
Japanese tempura batter fries up super crispy and fairly oil-free. The thin, lacy coating doesn’t retain much moisture or fat to make fish stick. Use chilled club soda or water for lightness.
A basic blend of cornstarch, flour, and sparkling water produces a delicate crust. The cornstarch crisps up quickly to release fish. Add baking powder for extra airiness and crunch.
Panko’s coarse, flaky texture resists absorbing oil or moisture. Blend with flour and spices, then coat fish for a shatteringly crispy crust. Avoid packing on too thick of a layer.
Cracker Meal Coating
Crushed crackers like saltines or Ritz make a tasty coating with less gluey starch. Their high oil absorption minimizes what could transfer to the fish. Perfect for frying catfish or cod.
The Best Fish for Frying
Choosing fish with the right characteristics also prevents sticking. Look for fish that:
- Has a firm, flaky texture like catfish, cod, tilapia or salmon. Soft, mushy fish fall apart.
- Isn’t too lean or it may dry out. Fattier fish like trout and mackerel work well.
- Is sliced to a uniform 1⁄2 inch thickness for even cooking.
- Is thoroughly patted dry before battering to reduce steam.
Smaller fish like smelt or whitebait fry up crispy and pop free with ease. Their higher surface area to volume ratio makes for ideal heat transfer.
Preventing Sticking When Frying Fish Sticks
Kids and adults love fish sticks, but their shape makes them prone to sticking. Follow these tips for success:
- Use rectangular metal fry baskets, not round wire ones. The flat surfaces give batter room to expand.
- Spray baskets with oil or flour before adding fish.
- Start fish sticks pinched side down so they release as they shrink and curl.
- Fry 3-4 sticks per basket max for ideal crispness.
- Shake basket gently while frying to prevent adherence.
Breading fish sticks twice creates extra crunch too. Chill sticks after an initial breading, then dip again in batter and crumbs. Use panko or cornflake crumbs for extra crispness and release.
How to Clean a Sticky Fryer Basket
Even with all these tips, some sticking may still occur. Here’s how to clean a gummy, crusty fryer basket:
- Soak in hot, soapy water to loosen debris. Use a mild detergent, not soap which can leave a film.
- Use a plastic brush or scouring pad to scrub away any bits. Avoid steel wool or harsh scrubbers that can damage the coating.
- For tough spots, boil a diluted vinegar solution and immerse basket for 5 minutes to break up residue.
- Rinse thoroughly and dry completely with a dish towel. Trapped moisture causes corrosion and decay of non-stick.
- Apply a light coat of vegetable oil once fully dry for next use. Store basket upright, not nested inside another pan.
Take time after each use to wipe down the basket. Avoid abrasive cleaners that strip away non-stick. With care, your fryer basket can keep fish releasing beautifully batch after batch.
Frying fish so it doesn’t stick takes a little finessing, but is very achievable. The keys are using high-quality equipment, proper prep and frying technique, and batters that encourage crispness. With the right basket, oil, temperature, and coatings, you can fry up seafood that practically leaps from the oil. Focus on releasing excess moisture, allowing ample space, and coating minimally. Follow these tips and you can master the art of non-stick fish frying.