As I’ve said many times before, down here in the south food is tied inextricably to social affairs. Your family gets together for Sunday dinner. Birthdays turn into buffets with extended family and friends. Church events are often potlucks. You go out for tacos and margaritas with your coworkers after finishing a tough project. Your grieving family is buried under piles of food whenever there’s a funeral. And fundraisers are often thrown in the form of fish fries.
My great aunt and uncle are heavily involved in the local Kiwanis and Jaycees, and every year, like clockwork, we’d get tickets to go to the annual fish fry. For the price of a ticket, you’d get to load up on all the cornmeal-battered, deep-fried catfish you wanted, along with traditional sides like coleslaw and hushpuppies and french fries and macaroni and cheese. You’d sit at tables covered with plastic red-and-white checked tablecloths, passing bottles of tartar sauce and ketchup around, listening as donated items were auctioned off to create more funds for donation. And you could buy pieces of excellent buttermilk or chess or coconut cream pie baked by someone’s grandma for an extra dollar or two.
So I love me a good fish fry. Fortunately, my Canadian husband also grew up eating fried fish (although he’d usually caught it himself a few hours before), so he’s generally on board when I want to fry up a whole mess of fish. This is also one of those meals that – gasp! – my Meemaw will eat.
Now, the kind of fish you use is up to you. Down here in the south, we traditionally eat catfish. It’s both firm and fatty, so it fries up really well, and it’s delicious. That’s all that Meemaw will eat. But CB doesn’t care for it – he once told me that catfish are “disgusting bottom-feeders” – so I usually pick something different for the two of us. He prefers walleye, which I’ve never seen sold at the market around here, so I usually pick out tilapia or cod… again, both of which are fairly firm fish. That’s important. You don’t want something that’s really soft or flaky, because it’ll be a nightmare to fry. Haddock and pollock would probably be good choices, also.
Around here, a pound of catfish costs about $4.99, and a pound of tilapia is about $5.99. I buy from Kroger, which is slightly cheaper and seems to have a pretty good fresh fish selection. I’ve also bought from Publix, which is slightly pricier. And it’s worth noting that I’ve only ever fried “fresh” fish – not the kind that you buy frozen and then have to thaw. A good portion size is about a half pound per person.
Generally I settle on tilapia for both myself and CB, because it has a mild flavor, is low in mercury, and is high in protein and potassium, an electrolyte that is usually necessary to supplement on a keto diet.
- Fresh whitefish suitable for frying – catfish, tilapia, cod, etc, 1/2lb per person
- One serving of my 3-2-1 Keto Breading per half pound of fish
- One egg
- Seasoning of choice – I use either Old Bay or Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
- Oil for frying (not pictured) – coconut, canola, olive, or hell, even lard or bacon grease
You can fry a whole filet at a time, or you can cut the fish into bite-sized nuggets, which is what I do. There’s no difference in taste, but I like to dunk mine like fish sticks into reduced sugar ketchup, so I find the nuggets easier.
Make sure you have your oil heating while you prep the fish. You can use a deep fryer, but I don’t have one so I just heat my oil in a cast iron skillet on the stove. You want it deep enough that it will cover the bottom half of the fish – so about a quarter inch deep.
Follow the directions to my 3-2-1 Keto Breading recipe to make your batter. At this point add your seasoning. Old Bay is a more traditional fish fry flavor and is quite good. Sometimes, though, I prefer to use Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning for a spicier flavor.
You will also need to put together an egg wash. Traditionally, you would dredge your fish in buttermilk. However, buttermilk is fairly high in carbs and doesn’t add that much flavor to the fish, so we are going to coat our fish in an egg wash so the batter will stick. To create an egg wash, use a fork to whip a raw egg in a bowl with a few tablespoons of water.
Add your fish to the egg wash and coat thoroughly.
Following its egg wash, dredge the fish through the breading until fully coated.
The oil in your skillet is hot enough for frying when a droplet of water will bounce off of it.
Add the fish and allow it to fry for about 3 minutes, or until the underside is turning a dark golden brown. If you have a really thick piece of fish, you may have to fry for closer to 5 minutes.
Use a fork to flip it.
See how we’re getting some nice browning there? As the bottom half cooks – again, for about 3 minutes – the top will continue to darken.
When fish is golden brown on both sides, pull it out of the hot oil and set it on a paper towel to drain while you fry the next batch. A pound usually takes me 3 rounds in my small cast iron skillet.
At this point I’ll try one of the smaller nuggets. Usually they’re perfect, but sometimes if I’m looking for a little extra heat I’ll add some more cajun spice right here.
Serve with your choice of side. I’m not a fan of coleslaw, but that would be a good traditional (and keto-friendly!) pick. I love these with fresh-cooked green beans with hog jowl, but this particular night we had buttery broccoli.
Usually this is the time I’d tell you guys the nutritional facts for this meal. But I’m not going to do that this time, just because this dish is so customizable. The type of fish you use matters. The type of oil you use matters. You can find my 3-2-1 Keto Breading listed in MyFitnessPal, so if I were you, I’d just import that, add in your fish, and measure your oil when you fry this up. I CAN tell you that this cooking method always turns out crispy, perfectly fried fish that’s reminiscent of down-home southern cornmeal-rolled catfish. It’s worth giving it a try… maybe especially now that it’s getting close to Lent and many folks will be looking for fish recipes for Friday nights. This is a good alternate if you’re getting tired of baked salmon or other “healthy” fish dishes, and it still packs a nutritional punch while staying perfectly keto.
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