How to fry and grill fish

To fry fish

I have evocative memories of my grandmother shallow-frying skate wings, her favourite fish, which she first dipped into seasoned flour – they were golden and crisp at the edges and there were always special Victorian bone-handled fish knives and forks on the table. Shallow-fried fish makes a simple but very tempting supper dish, but you need to follow a few basic rules to get it absolutely right. First, the fish must be dried thoroughly with kitchen paper, and because the flesh of white fish is so delicate, there needs to be some kind of coating – try seasoned white or wholemeal flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs. There are recipes on the site that have a flour and pepper crust and one with polenta (maize meal), which gives an extra crisp coating.

Olive oil gives the best degree of crispness. If, on the other hand, you'd like to get a buttery flavour, then use half oil and half butter (on its own, butter burns too easily and can spoil the flavour). The second rule is you must have the fat hot enough. There should be enough to cover the pan and give a depth of about 3 mm – and the most vital point is that it must be really hot. Watch the oil as it's heating and you will see a shimmering haze that will cue you as to when to add the fish. If in doubt, add a small cube of bread, which should sizzle quite fiercely; if it doesn't, the oil is not hot enough. The idea is to seal the fish in the hot fat on both sides – it is only when the fat isn't hot enough that fried fish tastes oily.

Shallow-frying guidelines are as follows:

Whole Dover sole, lemon sole or plaice weighing 10-12 oz (275-350 g) each – 4-6 minutes each side.

Fillets of the above – 2-3 minutes each side.

Fish steaks and fillets weighing 6-7 oz (175-200 g) – 5-6 minutes each side.

Skate wings – 4-5 minutes each side.

Whole herring or mackerel weighing 8-10 oz (225-275 g) – 5-6 minutes each side.

Kippers weighing 9-10 oz (250-275 g) – 4 minutes each side.

Sprats – 2-3 minutes each side.

Always drain shallow-fried fish on crumpled silicone paper (baking parchment) or absorbent kitchen paper before serving. I have, I'm afraid, eliminated deep-frying from my own cooking repertoire. I think times have changed and we've all moved on from not only the bother of it, but also the 'write your name in it' layer of grease it leaves on the kitchen walls. Yes, there are deep-frying machines, but they're a bother to clean and take up too much space. I now prefer to use high-temperature oven roasting for chips. Fish, I feel, can be very successfully shallow-fried. Meanwhile, I can still enjoy deep-fried fish and chips from my local chippy and other deep-fried foods in restaurants and let them have the bother of cleaning the ceiling and walls.

To grill fish

When grilling, first remember to always line your grill pan with buttered foil, as this makes it easier to wash and prevents any fishy flavours from lingering in the pan. For domestic grills, always pre-heat them to their highest setting a good 10 minutes in advance. White fish needs to be brushed generously with melted butter and basted with more melted butter whilst cooking to prevent any dryness. This is something of a minefield to give timings for, because domestic grills vary so much, as do shelf-distances from the source of the heat, so bear this in mind when following these guidelines.

Approximate grilling times are:

Whole Dover sole, lemon sole or plaice weighing 10-12 oz (275-350 g) – grill for 4-6 minutes each side.

Fillets of sole or plaice – 2-3 minutes each side.

Fish fillets and steaks weighing 6-8 oz (175-225 g) – allow 5-6 minutes each side, flesh-side first, and have extra butter ready for basting during cooking.

Whole mackerel weighing 8-10 oz (225-275 g) – make 3 diagonal scores on each side and, if you wish, tuck in a slice of lemon or lime, brush with melted butter and grill for 6-7 minutes each side.

Whole herring weighing 6-8 oz (175-225 g) – score and butter as above and allow 4-5 minutes each side.

Kippers weighing 9-10 oz (250-275 g) – place a knob of butter on the flesh side and allow 4-5 minutes each side.

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