The Best Oil For Frying Fish Without Changing The Flavor

Frying is a delicious method for cooking fish — though one could argue that frying enhances the flavor of almost anything. But searing a piece of fish in hot oil to develop a crispy, crunchy browned crust while keeping the flesh tender and flaky inside? That is always a hit.

Fish is notoriously delicate, not just in texture but also in flavor, making it highly susceptible to the type of oil used for cooking. Many oils, such as olive, peanut, or sesame, can infuse the fish with distinct flavors. But what if you want to stay true to the subtle, unique flavor of the fish without altering or masking it with oil?

The ideal frying oil for delivering a tasty fish without compromising its original flavor is a neutral one. One of the best options you might not have considered before is refined safflower oil, which is virtually tasteless and has a high smoke point for frying.

Why you should use safflower oil to fry your fish

Whether you're lightly frying a fatty fillet like salmon or mackerel, or preparing a whole fish for deep frying such as sea bass or flounder, choosing a neutral-flavored oil is crucial for retaining the fish's natural flavors — be they buttery, fresh, salty, or sweet. Safflower oil, derived from the seeds of the safflower plant, which resembles a sunflower, is virtually tasteless.

However, it's not just about flavor neutrality; refined safflower oil also offers another essential quality for frying — a high smoke point. In fact, it boasts one of the highest smoke points among cooking oils, ranging from 440 to 520 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it ideal for flash frying — which means frying your fish for between one to five minutes in extremely hot oil to get an immediate sear — or high-heat cooking, as the oil can withstand extremely high temperatures without oxidizing, smoking, or turning rancid or toxic.

Refined vs. unrefined safflower oil

To reap the benefits of frying fish in safflower oil, it's crucial to opt for a refined version, also known as high-oleic safflower oil. Like many other oils — including sunflower, soybean, and flaxseed oils — safflower oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats. However, high-oleic safflower oil is made from a safflower variety that contains a higher percentage of monounsaturated fats, comprising around 70 to 80% of its total fat content. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are generally considered "healthy fats," according to Healthline.

The monounsaturated fat content gives high-oleic safflower oil its high smoke point, enhances its stability during cooking, and extends its shelf life. Other types of safflower oil have lower smoke points; for instance, semi-refined safflower oil has a smoke point of 320 degrees Fahrenheit, while unrefined safflower oil has a smoke point of 225 degrees Fahrenheit. These varieties are better suited for medium- to low-heat cooking or no-heat applications like salad dressings, rather than frying.