Oil splattering happens due to the water content boiling out from the fish when frying. To reduce the chance of oil splattering while frying a fish, reduce the water content by pat dry the fish before placing it into the hot oil. Coating the fish with flour is an alternative way of avoiding oil from splattering during the frying process.
The cause of oil splattering when frying fish
When frying fish on a pan or a wok, the water content in the fish will be in contact with the hot boiling oil. The boiling point for the water is at 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) which is lower than the temperature of the boiling oil which is around 177-191 degrees Celsius (350-375 degrees Fahrenheit). Thus, the water content from the fish will instantly turn into vapour when it first contacts with the hot oil. The water vapour from the fish which is lower in density (usually in bubble form) will eventually find its way out from the oil column. The upwards motion of these boiling air bubbles will push away the hot oil in order to rise up to the surface and this causes oil to splatter around.
How to reduce the water content from the fish before frying?
So, does fish contain water and what is the water concentration inside a fish? Yes, just like our body, fish in generally, is made up of approximately 80 percent water. Water concentration inside a saltwater fish is higher than in the ocean itself because the ocean is saltier. As a result, most saltwater fish constantly lose water through their gills and skin. Because the fish is losing water, it must drink a lot to stay hydrated.
We cannot change the natural water concentration inside a fish. However, we should minimize the water content outside the fish body.
Water from thawing a frozen fish
Frying a fish without thawing it first is not recommended because it will generate a lot water content during the frying process and this is caused oil splattering. Even after you thaw a frozen fish, make sure to pat dry the fish before putting it into the hot oil to avoid oil splashing.
Read our article on how to defrost a frozen fish the right way.
Water from washing a fish
In some cases, you might tend to slide the fish which is just out from the running tap (washing) into the hot oil. While the fish is still full of water, this will increase the chance of oil splattering. Again, pat-dry the fish by using a paper towel before cooking the fish will reduce the chance of oil splattering.
Is it recommended to pat dry a fish before frying? Does it reduce the juiciness of the fish?
It is recommended to pat dry the fish using paper towel before frying. Removing the water content from outside the fish will not change the water concentration inside the fish, thus the fish will remain its fluid and juiciness.
Does the amount of oil affect the chance of oil splattering when frying a fish?
There is no direct relationship between the amount of oil and the chance of oil splattering. However, you should always fill the pan with the right amount of oil. If you are going to pan fry the fish, make sure you pour in just enough oil to cover the bottom half of the fish. If the fish is submerged into a deeper pot of oil, the chances are more water vapor will be boiling out from the oil, thus, theoretically higher chance of oil splattering.
Does coating a fish with flour before frying reduce oil splattering?
Coating the fish with flour will help to absorb the moisture from the outside of the fish thus reducing the chance of oil splattering. Flour coating also helps to retain the moisture from the inside of the fish flesh and thus maintain its juiciness. However, this method might not be suitable for all recipes. Coating the fish with flour will create a crispy golden-brown out crust and it will also reduce the chance of the fish skin from sticking to the pan.
Does adding salt to the pan reduce oil splattering when frying a fish?
The salt added in the pan will react with the water content from the fish and increase the boiling point of the water, however the boiling point elevation of the water is insignificant. Adding salt into the pot of oil will also lower down the smoke point of the oil, thus you will be likely to turn down the heat, especially when you see oil smoking. While adding salt into the boiling pan does not reduce oil splattering, the resulting action of lowering heat however will help reducing the rate of water vapor boiling out of the pan, thus indirectly helps to reduce oil splattering.
Oil splattering of frying leaner fish vs thicker fish
A leaner fish fillet contains less water inside the body thus reduces the amount of water content that needs to be pushed out as vapor from the hot oil. Frying a leaner fish fillet also reduces the cooking time where oil will splatter around. Thus, frying thicker piece of fish like salmon will increase the cooking time which increases the chance of oil splattering.
Should you start frying fish at a lower temperature to avoid oil splattering?
Although you might be able to reduce the oil splattering effect by start frying a fish at a lower temperature, it is not recommended. When the oil is not hot enough, water content or moisture within the fish will not boil and push out from the body. Thus, the oil will seep into the fish and the fish will be soggy and greasy.