Coating fish with flour before cooking enhances its naturally delicate texture by creating a crispy golden-brown outer crust while retaining its inner flakiness. Used most often when pan-frying, the flour coating adds flavor and helps to seal in juices. The coating can be a basic blend of flour, salt and pepper, or you can jazz it up with herbs of your choice.
Fish such as haddock, sole, cod, pollock and whiting contain very little fat, which is what helps foods develop a crispy outer crust during frying. Fish also takes much less time to cook, which means that, by the time a golden-brown color develops on the outside of the fish, the inside has cooked through. A flour coating speeds up the browning process without overcooking the fish, which makes it dry and tasteless.
Keeping It All Together
It's easy to cook tender white fish to the point where it falls apart in the pan. Unlike the flesh of other animals, there is little to no fat between the tissues in fish and no membranes to hold them together. A flour coating works to seal the outside of the fish, keeping the tender insides together in the process. Cooking times for pan-frying fish fillets are approximate and depend on their thickness. Cook fillets for roughly 7 to 10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coating the Fish
You can use flour alone as a light dusting or as one component in a thicker coating that puffs up during pan-frying: Dry the fillets or pieces with paper towels and dip them in a mixture of beaten eggs and water or milk. Allow the excess liquid to drip off, then coat the fish on both sides with flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper and any herbs or spices to your liking. Shake off the excess flour and fry in about 1/2 inch of hot oil until the crust is golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
If you like your fish crunchy, combine the flour with plain or seasoned bread or cracker crumbs or finely crushed corn flake cereal. For added flavor, use butter or cheese-flavored crackers and crush finely before coating the fish. Adjust the salt content in the coating if using salted crackers, or use an unsalted variety. Be sure the oil in the pan is hot, as this seals the flour coating quickly before it starts to fall apart. Once the coating has set, reduce the heat to medium.