The Best Fish To Use For Fried Fillet Sandwiches

Whether you're loyal to the Filet-O-Fish or any of its fast-food cousins, the fried fish sandwich is a classic part of the American diet. Ideally, it should feature tender fish with a crisp, golden-brown coating — which means it's important to select the right kind of protein for the job.

Let's start with what you want to avoid, and why. Catfish is fantastic when fried, but it's not quite right for this dish. It is traditionally served with a cornmeal dredging, which will give you a crunchier experience than the Filet-O-Fish-style sandwich you're after. Fried fish like smelts are delicious, but offer a markedly different texture because they are so small. Beyond this, a meatier fish like tuna will be too difficult to eat in a sandwich, and a strongly flavored option like bluefish can overpower the clean flavors of the dish.

Instead, turn to a flaky white fish to create the best homemade fried fish sandwich. In addition to its textural advantages, white fish are fairly mild, which means they'll complement the bold flavor of tartar sauce well. Approaching a fried fillet sandwich is pretty much identical to frying fish and chips, so when in doubt, just reach for any white fish you'd enjoy in that context.

Selecting your white fish

Don't worry if you can't find a specific species of white fish for your sandwich — most quality fillets will work. For the absolute best results, however, let's consider three top options: cod, haddock, and flounder.

Cod is an enduring choice for fish and chips, which translates to its utility in sandwiches. It boasts a tender texture, so turn to it if you want a buttery, soft piece of seafood. Haddock, while not as soft or flaky as cod, has a more pronounced, sweeter flavor. Use this if you want the fish to have a strong presence in your sandwich. 

Flounder and tilapia are common alternatives, but flounder offers a cleaner flavor, and contains more omega-3 fatty acids than tilapia. Flounder has also become a popular option, thanks to Popeyes' fried Flounder Fish Sandwich, which has earned recognition as one of the best fast food fried fish sandwiches.

Tips for the best fry

Frying fish requires a different dredging approach than a dish like American fried chicken. You aim for a thin and crispy coating, not a crunchy and craggy one. The batter also needs to brown quickly before the fish overcooks, which is why fish and chips and fried fish sandwiches often use beer batter. The alcohol in beer evaporates faster than water, allowing the batter to start browning sooner.

Seltzer is another popular batter addition. Its carbonation creates air pockets that lighten the batter, an excellent option if you desire the texture of beer-battered fish, but want to avoid the gluten in beer.

Mixing beer or seltzer with flour is standard, but for even better results, try combining it with flour and cornstarch, which has more starch and less gluten than regular flour, and crisps up more quickly. Always use neutral oils with a high smoke point, like canola, for frying. An oil like olive oil not only burns before reaching the ideal temperature, but also introduces strong flavors that could overshadow the final dish's taste.