The Best Oil for Frying Fish | Advice From a 50 Year Cook


My dad was a fisherman, my husband is a fisherman, so fish just seem to present themselves for cooking at my house on a regular basis. The two things about frying fish that have been taught to me from an early age is that they should be deep-fried in very hot oil.

The best oil for frying fish is any oil with a smoke point of at least 450°, a neutral or mild flavor, and one that does not transfer flavors. Peanut oil is the absolute best, but other great options include Canola Oil, Sunflower Oil, and Safflower Oil.

Peanut oil, like this kind on the Amazon market, is my favorite type to use.

Looking for something healthy? Please read on, and I’ll list those below as well. I’ll also give a few more tips and provide some info essential to the frying process.

Things to Consider When Choosing an Oil for Frying:

Keep these things in mind when making your decision:

  1. Any oil that you choose for frying fish should be the most refined oil available to you as unrefined and semi-refined oils will not have a sufficiently high smoke point for the job. The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to break down and burn.
  2. An oil used for deep frying should have a neutral or mild flavor that will not change or overpower the taste of the food being cooked.
  3. The oil should not be extremely expensive if you are using a sufficient amount for deep frying.
  4. The oil should not transfer the flavor from one food to another when frying more than one kind or type of food.

Why I Recommend These Oils for Frying Fish

I have always been told that peanut oil is the very best oil to use, so that’s what we use. However, over the years, I have also learned that there are other oils that work great. So, now, when someone asks me for a recommendation on the best oil for frying fish, I give them this list:

Canola Oil:

  • Smoke Point: 450 Degrees
  • Canola oil is one of the more affordable oils, has a mild flavor, and will not transfer the taste of one food to the next if frying more than one type of food. 
  • Canola oil is also high in omega fatty acids, making it a healthy option.

Sunflower Oil:

  • Smoke Point: 450 Degrees
  • Sunflower oil is one of the oils frequently used for frying fish because its neutral flavor doesn’t interfere with the taste of the fish.
  • According to webmd, sunflower oil is low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats, making it heart-healthy.
  • In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that we replace the saturated and trans fats in our diet with mono and polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower oils.

Safflower Oil:

  • Smoke Point: 510 Degrees
  • Safflower oil has a neutral flavor, making it a good option for frying fish, but it is also considered a healthier option than most oils for cooking. 
  • Safflower oil is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which the American Heart Association (AHA) calls “good fats,” and low in saturated fats, which, according to the AHA, are the “bad fats.”
  • According to an article in Medical News Today, some research has suggested that there are health benefits associated with the use of safflower oil, such as reducing blood pressure levels, improving blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol, and fighting inflammation.

Peanut Oil:

  • Smoke Point: 450 Degrees
  • What makes peanut oil so good for frying fish and other foods is that it is affordable, has a mild flavor, and will not take on the flavor of what has been cooked in it. So, if you fry fish and then chicken, the chicken will not taste like fish.
  • One disadvantage of using peanut oil is that people with nut allergies could have an adverse reaction to foods fried in peanut oil.

What Is the Healthiest Oil for Frying Fish?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the healthiest oils for cooking are:

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Olive
  • Peanut
  • Safflower
  • Soybean
  • Sunflower

But, please note that the American Heart Association does not recommend deep frying as a cooking method.

And according to many major cooking websites, the following five oils are among the top recommendations for the best, healthiest, and most cost-effective oils for frying fish:

  • Canola
  • Corn 
  • Peanut
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower

There are other good oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil that are great for pan-frying and for cooking other foods, but certain properties like olive oil’s low smoke point, coconut oil’s strong taste, and avocado oil’s high price, make them unfit for deep frying.

Methods of Frying Fish:

Pan-Frying: 

Pan-frying involves frying fish in a skillet or large pan in a small amount of oil. Fish can be fried either battered or unbattered when using this method. To pan-fry fish, follow these steps:

  • Heat oil in a skillet or pot large enough to accommodate the fish you are frying.
  • Season and batter the fish and put into the hot oil one piece at a time.
  • Turn the pieces of fish over when browned to cook well on both sides.
  • Remove fish from the oil when done and drain well.
  • Serve immediately while hot.

Deep-Frying:

The deep-fry method of cooking fish involves frying in a large pot in enough oil to completely cover the fish or other food you are cooking by following these steps:

  • For the best deep-fried fish, have the oil hot at approximately 380° before adding the fish. Season and batter the fish and put into the hot oil one piece at a time.
  • The fish will sink to the bottom of the pot when added and rise to the top when done.
  • Cook until golden brown, and don’t allow it to overcook.
  • Remove fish from the oil when done and drain well.
  • Serve immediately while hot.

Outdoors:

  • When frying fish outdoors in a large pot over a propane cooking ring, heat oil until a match will ignite when thrown into the oil.
  • Drop seasoned and battered whole or pieces of fish into the hot oil.
  • The fish will sink to the bottom of the pot when added and rise to the top when done.
  • Cook until it rises to the top, and do not allow it to overcook. The fish will cook very quickly.
  • Remove the fish from the oil when done and drain well.
  • Serve immediately while hot. 

Types of Batter

  1. Season with salt and pepper and roll fish in cornmeal.
  2. Season with salt and pepper and roll fish in a mixture of half cornmeal and half flour.
  3. Dip fish alternately, first in a mixture of beaten egg thinned with a bit of water and then in a flour mixture seasoned with salt, black pepper, and any seasonings of your choice.

Tips for Cooking With Oils

These are some helpful tips I’ve learned over the decades:

  1. Choose the right types of fish as not all fish is good fried. Some fish like flounder, tuna, and salmon are better pan-fried, grilled, baked, or broiled.
  2. When deep-frying, bring oil to the desired temperature, usually 380° before adding the fish.
  3. Fry in small batches. Do not add too many pieces of fish at the time and crowd the fish when frying as it would result in unevenly cooked fish.
  4. When deep-frying, if the smoke point is accidentally reached and the oil begins to burn, don’t try to use it, just discard it and start over.
  5. If an oil is stored too long, it can go bad. If you detect a rancid or “off” odor, discard the oil immediately and don’t try to salvage it.
  6. It has been recommended that we not reuse or reheat oil. However, many people do reuse oil that has been used for deep frying by cooling it, straining it, and storing it in an airtight container in the refrigerator or other cool place.
  7. If reusing oil, the results will be better if used for frying a similar food to the original use.
  8. As with all foods, store oil in a cool, dark, and dry area away from any direct light or heat source.
  9. When buying oil for deep frying, be sure to check the label for the smoke point.

Here is a video of me frying up some fish:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19uoLX-MGMk

Best Fish for Deep Frying

Some fish like salmon and tuna are not the best choices for deep frying but are better grilled, pan-fried, baked, or broiled. Some of the best fish for deep frying are bass, catfish, perch, cod, and tilapia.

How to Dispose of Used Oil

Used oil should be discarded properly, and here are a few tips on its disposal:

  1. Never pour oil into a household drain as it can clog both the drains and septic systems.
  2. Never pour oil in plastic bags for disposal as they can leak.
  3. Pour oil in some sort of plastic container that has a secure lid like a milk jug and put it into the garbage for disposal.

Final Thoughts

Most of us are fans of fried fish, even if only occasionally, but we have to cook the fish quickly using the right oil for the job. Fish that is overcooked will be leathery, and fish that is cooked in oil that isn’t hot enough will be greasy. But, deep- or pan-fried fish that is cooked at the right temperature in one of the oils mentioned above will be amazing and will create a special occasion for your family and friends!

For more, don’t miss How Long Can You Keep Fish on Ice? | Gutted vs. Ungutted.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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