Battered Fish

September 14, 2013 in Categories: by

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My very fist summer job, almost two and a half decades ago, was at a Fish & Chips shop.  It was a little hole in the wall, that served mostly take-out but had three tables for anyone who wanted to “dine”.  It was a pretty authentic hole-in-the-wall type chip shop, and we even wrapped the fish and fries in newspaper.  While I was technically hired to do food prep and cleaning, I actually ran the whole place and did every single job except cut the fish fillets.  I peeled and cut the potatoes, made the tartar sauce, made the coleslaw (the inspiration for my best ever coleslaw recipe), made the batter, answered the phones, ran the till, waited the tables, deep fried the fish, french fries, oysters and clam strips, grilled burgers (although we didn’t sell many of those), made sandwiches, took phone orders, wrapped everything up for the customers, and cleaned the whole place before I could go home.  The “chef” cut the fish and “supervised” (smoked with the guy who worked in the convenience store next store out back).  All for a glorious $5 per hour (minimum wage in Canada at the time, I was lucky because they had just raised it from $4.50).  But I was 14, so what did I know?  I did learn some great kitchen skills (and gained 40 pounds in one summer because the only “perk” of the job was that I got to eat the food and no one was actually keeping tabs on how much I ate!  but that’s a whole different story) and did develop a long-standing love of fish & chips.

The batter recipe was a secret that I was one of the privileged few to know.  To be honest, I don’t actually remember what the secret ingredient was, but I seem to remember thinking it was very simple (I think the batter only had 4 or 5 ingredients).  Years (and years) later, when I went through a homemade fried fish phase, because I couldn’t remember the secret recipe any more, I made a different batter recipe, but one that I thought was just as tasty.  And while I’d love to claim that this recipe is inspired by the secret recipe I learned at the hole-in-the-wall chip shop, it’s actually the recipe I played with years later that inspired this paleo version.  This actually means the credit should go to my Uncle Bob who one day told me something to the effect of “homemade tempura batter is easy!  you just whip up some egg whites and add some corn starch”.  I don’t actually think this batter is that tempura like.  But it is very yummy!

This batter is an egg white batter.  Make sure to save the yolks (maybe make some mayonnaise and chop up some pickles in it for your own homemade tartar sauce or add to scrambled eggs in the morning).  It needs to be used immediately after making, so I don’t recommend doubling the recipe (unless you have a giant deep fryer).  I did use a small counter top deep-fryer to make these.  You could deep fry in a large heavy-bottomed pan (detailed instructions are included in this recipe for sweet potato chips) and if you really dislike the idea of deep frying (it took me a long time to get comfortable with it myself, so I understand!), this recipe actually holds together well enough to pan fry (you need to pan fry in about 1/2″ of fat, so a big 12″ or 14″ cast-iron frying pan is the tool of choice here) as long as you flip the fish carefully.

I fried in lard, but you can use tallow or palm shortening or even refined or unrefined coconut oil if you prefer.  I prefer the flavor of things fried in lard or tallow versus other choices.  Which ever fat you use, make sure to set the temperature on your deep fryer (or tweak the settings of the element on your stovetop) to maintain 5F below smoke point and anywhere in the deep frying sweet-spot zone of 350F to 375F (because temperature control is so much trickier on the stovetop, I recommend sticking to 10F below smoke point or using a very high smoke point fat like refined coconut oil or palm shortening just to be safe–it that has you frying at 340F, that’s okay too).

In my experience gleaned from my 2-month stint running a chip shop, how your fried food turns out is very dependent on temperature.  Too low and it absorbs grease and becomes greasy.  Too high and it gets a burnt flavor and doesn’t cook evenly.  Never leave the room when you are deep frying and always make sure to take appropriate safety precautions (like having a fire extinguisher handy).  Remember: never ever pour water on a grease fire.

Here are smoke points of fats you might want to use, just for easy reference:

Because I used lard, my deep fryer was set to 365F.

Okay, so other tips.  Egg white batter isn’t the easiest to use in terms of coating your fish.  But don’t worry.  Dredging in tapioca starch first makes sure the fish is minimally coated.  Use your fingers to do the best you can.  The batter expands a bit as it cooks and will fill in most of the gaps.  If you are frying in such small batches that it takes you so long to fry everything up that your batter starts getting liquidy, just do the best you can with the part that is staying thick and toss the liquidy stuff when you’re done.  It’s best not to use a basket here except to fish your fish out of the fat (get it?  fish your fish!  bwahaha) unless you are working in a pretty big deep fryer where the fat is pretty deep (if it’s a small deep fryer like mine, the batter might stick to the basket while it cooks since the fish sinks initially before floating up after a couple minutes).  You can play around with your set-up and see what works best (my deep fryer has a non-stick coating so I’m not entirely sure what would happen if you were doing this in a stainless steel pot).

Also, whether you make fish sticks, fish nuggets, or big ol’ fish & chips style battered fish will change the cook time, but they can all be done with this batter (it’s just a different on the shape and size of your fish fillets).  I used hake, but you could use any whitefish you like.

And because I know someone will ask, I think this will work with arrowroot powder instead of tapioca, but I haven’t tried.  I used tapioca because it’s better at giving a crust and holds together better than arrowroot.

If you have any leftovers, reheat them in the oven at 400F for 8-10 minutes and the batter will crisp right back up again.  Next time I make these, I’m going to try freezing them.  I suspect they’d cook up from frozen really well and be a great fast mid-week meal.

Oh, and my oldest called this the best supper I had ever made.  That’s pretty high praise.

Serves 3-5

Battered Fish | The Paleo Mom


  • 1-1/2 lbs whitefish fillets (cut to desired size and shape for fish sticks, fish nuggets, or big pieces of battered fish–the larger the pieces, the more you’ll be able to batter with this recipe and you might even be able to get 2lbs of fish battered)
  • 3 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour (this is the same thing as tapioca starch) plus an extra 1/2 cup or so for dredging
  • 1/4 tsp salt, to taste
  • High smoke-point fat to deep fry like lard or tallow(see notes above)
  1. Pat fish dry and set aside.
  2. Heat your fat a counter top deep fryer or in a large heavy-bottomed pan to between 350F and 375F, staying at least 5F below the fat’s smoke point.  See notes above.
  3. Meanwhile, use a hand mixer to beat the egg whites until stiff.  Fold in salt and tapioca to completely combine (you will loose a little of the air you beat into the egg whites, but that’s okay).
  4. When fat is ready, dredge fish fillets first in tapioca and then dip in batter (you will have to use your fingers to spread the batter out over the fish, don’t worry if it’s not completely evenly coated, and it should end up something like 1/4″ thick or slightly less before you fry it).
  5. Carefully, place fish in the deep fryer.  4-5 oz fillets will take 5-6 minutes total and you’ll want to gently and carefully flip the over after 3-4 minutes.  Smaller pieces of fish will take less time and of course this will vary depending on the exact temperature of the fat in your fryer.  You’re looking for a very light golden brown on the batter (this doesn’t make a very dark batter) and for the fish to be opaque throughout.  Carefully lift the pieces out of the deep fryer with a fry basket and place on paper towel or a cookie cooling rack until you’re ready to serve.

Tips:  I served these with sweet potato chips and steamed broccoli (yeah, the broccoli may not be the most classic side dish to fish& chips), but you could also make something much more french fry-like while you have the deep fryer going.  Try slicing wedges of green plantain, parsnip or sweet potato and fry until crisp on the outside but soft in the middle and really make it a Fish & Chips night!



I love frying in healthy fats, but what should you do with the frying fat when done? Can you reuse it? If so, how much until it oxidizes? This is what holds me up from getting a deep fryer, the thought of having to throw out all that fat…


Also, do you have a recommendation for a substitute for the egg whites? My kids don’t tolerate them to well.

You can continue to reuse the same fat about a dozen times, as long as you top up with fresh fat each time. I don’t have a great solution for batter without the egg whites, but I mixed a little salt with tapioca starch for a couple of extra pieces of fish I had and it made a pretty nice crust just by itself.

I am *huge* fish and chips fan. It was one of those meals I always got out when I was with my mom (now deceased), and I consider it a major part of my colonial New England heritage. So I want to make these with some sweet potato fries, and make some homemade tartar sauce with Paleo mayo and some good relish. My daughter loves it too, and I always let her get it out. But now we can have it at home, and I don’t have to buy the expensive boxed GF stuff, which while tasty, still has ingredients I probably shouldn’t have. This is awesome. Thank you!

I just tried to make this in a non stick skillet with what I thought was coconut oil. I had some of that oil that separates from the white stuff in a can of coconut milk in the fridge so I thought I would use it up. I also mixed in some regular coconut oil that I buy because it didn’t seem like it was enough. When the two oils melted though, they looked very different and it smelled weird. Why would this be? I thought it was all the same oil.

The fish didn’t really cook well and the batter fell off because it was mushy. I ended up baking some of the fish “naked” so I wouldn’t waste it and I baked a few with some batter on just to see if they could be baked. Those were ok but it sort of reminded me of a macaroon with fish inside. Weird.

So is my only issue the oil? Maybe temperature? Is there a good thermometer anyone recommends for frying without a deep fryer?

Carrie, my guess is that you got mostly the thick part of the milk from the coconut milk and not actually oil. I would only use the coconut oil that says it is that. Without it being all oil, the fish would be come mushy, because you’re actually kind of poaching it and not actually frying it. See the temperatures Sarah has posted up above. Without a deep fryer it is tricky to keep the oil at a constant temperature. I don’t have a deep fryer either, but just use a candy/deep fry thermometer. I like the glass tube ones, but have also used the metal ones with the round dial on top. Here is one very similar to what I use:

The tick part of the separated coconut milk is “cocnut cream”, not oil. It gets confusing, doesn’t it? Lard and tallow are pretty cheap, you could render your own from a grassfed cow or pick some up at a coop for pretty cheap, best to deep fry with those animal fats 😉 The mushiness of the batter is from the oil being too cool.

I’ve noticed that most countertop fryers warn the user NOT to use solid fats like lard in them. I’m determined to purchase one for lard frying anyway, and I just have a couple of questions for you about the lard in the fryer.

1)do you take the lard out of the fryer after you’ve used it and store it in the fridge? 2) If it turns solid when it cools, how would you get it out and strain it??

Lard is pretty easy to spoon into the fryer. If I fry in tallow, I actually melt it in the microwave first. When I’m done frying, before the fat solidifies (but usually 2-3 hours after frying so it’s cooled substantially), I pour into a glass jar through a strainer and then wipe out the fryer. I store all my cooking fats in glass jars in a dark cabinet.

Thanks, I had the same question! I got the fryer you linked to a while back and only got around to (almost) using it recently. I read the manufacturer’s instructions first and was worried. I finally came to check and see what fat you used and I’m glad to see solid fats work in it. I’ll have to try again soon.

I made this last night – a big hit with my family! So yummy! This was also my first adventure in frying and now I want to get a fryer!! ( I used a Dutch oven and avocado oil). Thanks so much!!!

This was amazing – crispy, light; delicious! All our non-Paleo eaters wanted the recipe. Thank you so much for sharing!

Did you ever try freezing the leftovers? Did it work out? Thanks! Off to make this a second time, it’s a wonderful recipe!

I haven’t frozen them, but I have made enough for several nights and reheated leftovers in the oven at 400F for about 10 minutes. I bet they’d reheat from frozen well!

This is amazing. Used coconut oil and sole, and I couldn’t tell the difference from regular fish and chips. My fish was even frozen when dredging and it turned out great. I didn’t use a deep fryer, just used an inch of oil in a big pan and flipped them half way through. I kept them in the oven until ready to serve which was ok, but they taste best right after frying!
Thanks so much!

I made a recipe similar to this with a can of club soda, 1/4c coconut flour, and 3/4 cut tapioca flour with other spices. Makes a tempura-like batter that is delicious!

I love your recipes and your blog, but you (or your writer) need to learn the difference between ‘lose’ and ‘loose’ – it’s a pet hate of mine and makes me cringe – btw thank you for this recipe .. I am going to use it tonight 🙂

Thanks for posting this! We tried it for dinner and liked it a lot. My batter was only enough for 1lb of fish though and that was barely enough. Any one else experience that? I also ended up upping the salt and then sprinkling all with old bay seasoning as it was bland. everyone dipped their fish in ketchup as I didn’t make any tartar sauce. We used cod and fried in a mixture of bacon grease and coconut oil. Thanks again. I like your blog.

boy oh boy people never cease to amaze me! Chanel, this is a Paleo Diet blog. Please look into your assumptions about “good and bad” fats and why pale is a good, valid choice… best, Liora

Could this be baked instead of fried? I was seriously burned when I was young and now I am uncomfortable with deep fat frying anything.

I really want to make these! I’m a college student with limited resources though. I don’t have a deep fryer or fancy pans. I have randomly sized pans I could try to stack on one another, but I’m not sure. Is there any other way I could make this?

Never mind – I went ahead and made it anyways by heating a tall pan with a cm of coconut oil. I also used arrowroot starch instead and it fried perfectly! I had to flip the fish but it was no problem. SO delicious!! Thank you so so much:)

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