Using Different Flours for Cooking Fish and Seafood

Matching the flour to the cuisine is an easy way to add flavor and authenticity

Breaded fish on a plate

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A simple yet satisfying fish dish is fish fillets dusted with flour and seared off until crispy; the flour browns nicely and creates just the barest hint of a crust on the fish. For this technique, all-purpose flour is often used, and this is a great way to start. But if you want to create a vastly different texture and flavor profile in an otherwise simple dish, all you really need to do is switch up your flours.

You can take this one step further by combining a different flour with a different cooking oil. Think about the difference between a piece of halibut dusted in regular flour and fried in corn oil versus that same halibut dredged in rice flour and fried in sesame oil—the same fish will taste very different, offering a completely different taste and texture.

Chickpea Flour

Chickpea flour is a common flour used in the Mediterranean and India, so when you are making fish or seafood dishes from these regions, this type of flour is ideal. However, you don't need to save this finely ground flour for those types of recipes, as it not only imparts a deep brown, earthy, and warm flavor but is also very nutritious (packed with protein), as well as gluten-free. It also has fewer calories and carbs than all-purpose flour. Although it has a dense texture, it makes a very light batter when combined with club soda, perfect for deep-frying seafood.

You can buy chickpea flour in most large supermarkets, in ethnic markets, or online, or make your own. Simply place dried chickpeas in a food processor and blend until a fine powder forms. Sift and remove any large pieces, which you can grind down in a spice or coffee grinder.

Rice Flour

Made from finely milled white or brown rice, this flour is very common in Asian cuisine, especially in Southeast Asia, Japan, and southern India. It is lighter than all-purpose flour and will fry up crispier than most other flours, making it ideal for a tempura batter. Because it is made with just rice, it is gluten-free, making it acceptable to those on a gluten-free diet.

You can make almost any fried fish or seafood using rice flour, including Korean fried fish (saeng sun jun) which is a simple pan-fried fish recipe.

Rye or Barley Flour

If you want a richer, more mouth-filling flavor in your fish or seafood, use rye or barley flour. These flours are heavier-tasting, making them a good match for oily fish such as herring, bluefish, jacks, or mackerel. Consider using these flours when you are cooking dishes of cuisine that uses those flours, such as Scottish, German, or Scandinavian. Swap out the all-purpose flour in a recipe for smoked herring fishcakes or classic British whitebait (fried tiny fish) for a deeper flavor.

Semolina or Stone Ground Wheat Flour

When it comes to fried fish and seafood, it's not all about taste—texture matters, too. If you want something crunchy, but not as grainy as cornmeal, use semolina flour or stone-ground wheat flour. Both are wheat flours—semolina comes from a different type of wheat—but just not as finely ground as whole wheat or all-purpose flour. Make a basic fried fish fillet extra crispy, or swap out the all-purpose with semolina or stone-ground in a recipe for Polish fish in the Greek style; the crispier fish will withstand the sauce very well. You can also replace the cornmeal when making the fried shrimp for a po' boy sandwich.