Help me understand the various distinctions of battered/breaded fish....
Not looking to deep fry fish, but pan fry in my cast iron skillet (I mostly buy haddock, cod and other light fish).
There is fish batter with and without eggs. Some use milk. Some use beer. Some baking soda. Almost all use flour. Some rely on cornmeal. Obviously breadcrumbs/panko create a heartier crust.
Am I right in thinking that any batter with egg or milk creates a heavier/denser crust? If I want a truly thin and crisp crust, should I use a recipe without dairy?
Let me know what you do at home and what your go-to recipe is. I'm open to anything. There are so many variations online that I'm curious what the inside scoop is from you Chowhounders.
My family is all from Louisiana and south Texas, so by definition fried fish means cornmeal. It makes a very light and crispy crust. Just stir any seasoning you like into the cornmeal (if it's catfish straight out of the lake it doesn't need much more than a little salt and lemon pepper), dip the fish in the cornmeal, and fry. Of course, we deep fry for a crowd, but it works for pan frying too. If I'm doing a simple dinner for myself with grocery-store fish, I like a little lemon zest and thyme, and pan fry in just a dab of oil. I'll let the experts in batter coatings handle the rest.
I usually use a simple batter with flour, dark beer like Guinness, and powdered ancho, when I fry grouper or shrimp. For oysters, I prefer fine corn meal rather than the coarse stuff. Somehow the marriage of chilean sea bass and chopped macadamia nuts is heavenly, but that I do in the oven.
There are many roads to Mecca.
My friend from Louisiana taught me this method (for catfish), and I haven't looked back since....
Lightly rub the fish all over with yellow mustard (yep, the ballpark stuff), cajun seasoning (like Tony Cachere's), a dash of Louisiana-style hot sauce (like Crystal) and maybe a little extra salt (depending on the Cajun blend you use, which often incorporates salt). Let sit for about 15 minutes to marinate. I'd estimate 1 tablespoon mustard, 1/2 tablespoon of cajun seasoning, and 1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce per pound of fish.
Then, roll the fish in cornmeal, let it sit for about 10 minutes so the coating can set while you heat your oil up. Pan fry in light neutral oil over medium to medium-high heat till crisp on each side and cooked through. (Peanut oil is great, vegetable oil works fine.)
When he first showed me this, I thought this might be one of these nostalgic things that tastes right only because it's what he knew growing up. Nope. It is by all standards great fried fish....flavorful, but not overwhelming to the fish....and a coating that is somehow light and substantial all at once.
"Am I right in thinking that any batter with egg or milk creates a heavier/denser crust? If I want a truly thin and crisp crust, should I use a recipe without dairy? "
IMO, corn meal is too heavy for breading most fish (possible exception cat fish or similar fresh water fish) but that's something you'll make a personal decision about.
I prefer light dry coating for fried fish and reserve batter for deep frying. I use AP flour, rice flour, sometimes just a bit of corn starch to coat the fish usually Haddock, Cod, Tilapia, Orange Ruffy, etc., before frying. I don't batter or coat Sea Bass, Sword Fish, Shark, Halibut, Salmon or other more dense fish.
When you say pan fry, instead of deep fry, do you mean fry in a pan with minimal oil (like cooking a steak) or fry in a pan with an a lot more oil, say around 1/2" of oil or more (like cooking fried chicken in a cast iron skillet?).
Batters are best for deep frying or frying in lots of oil. You'll end up with something akin to English Fish (and chips) or tempura depending upon your batter.
If you plan to pay fry in a small amount of oil, around 1/8", breaded fish is probably the better bet if you wanting a thin and crispy crust. I would use fish fry (a finer grind of corn meal), bread crumbs or panko.
Typically, for deep frying, you would
1) dry the item and give a light coating of flour or starch.
2) For breaded food, drag through a wash
3) drag/dredge through the final coating - seasoned cornmeal, panko, seasoned flour or bread crumbs.
4) Fry. (Some recipes recommend resting so the dry coating sticks better)
If you're using a batter, you skip step 3) and step 2) becomes drag through the batter.
Skip the egg, milk, dairy?
Not really... I guess it depends upon what you're looking for - battered fish or breaded fish? How you plan to cook the fish - Deep frying or pan frying in a small amount of oil?
I'm thinking of a light fry in 6 or so tablespoons oil/butter combo.
I'm open to a deeper fry in more oil, although think it is easier to stick with less and I've heard you can still get good results.
I've breaded fish before (flour, egg wash, breadcrumbs) and like it fine, but am curious if a good, crisp fish and chips style crust can be done without deep frying....
For pan frying a seasoned flour will get you there. The important thing is that your fish not have too much water in it. Fresh is your friend as frozen fish can be soggy - IQF can be OK if it hasn't partially thawed on its way to you. I like pan frying with bacon drippings - it just tastes good.