Science of making Fried fish / Kibbeling

In my Dutch Food series I recently described ‘kibbeling‘. It’s a Dutch fried fish snack and can be bought at just about every Saturday market in the country. You’ll smell the fried fish from far, making you hungry straight away. In that post I also give you a great recipe to try to make for yourself. However, when sharing a recipe I like to discuss the why’s of a recipe as well! So that’s what we will be focussing on today.

A quick recap of the kibbeling recipe

The recipe I used can be found in full in my other blog post. Let me summarize quickly what we did so we can zoom in on the different steps:

  1. Pre-season the fish with a spice blend
  2. Make a battermix with flour, corn flour and spices
  3. Make a batter of equal water and battermix amounts
  4. Coat the fish with the batter
  5. Fry the fish

The effect of pre-seasoning fish

So what makes a good batter? As mentioned in the recipe, the spices will influence the flavour of the batter, however, they generally do not influence the structure and texture of the batter. Nevertheless, it’s important to first dip the fish in a separate spice batter. It’s a good way to create a dry surface on the fish. That improves the adherence of the batter to the fish. Instead of using spices, coating in flour would also give this effect.

Drying the outside of the fish can also prevent some migration of moisture from the fish into the batter. It is thought that this is one of the reasons a batter gets soggy.

Science of a batter mix

I’ve read and seen a lot of different frying/fried fish batters. They often contain, amongst others: beer, carbonated water or baking soda. What’s the common denominator? Correct, it’s the fact that they can ‘make’ air bubbles. These air bubbles will make a crust lighter upon frying.

Besides the ‘bubbling’ components there’s always some sort of flour in a fried fish batter mix. I’ve read that a higher proportion of rice and cornflour generally make for a crispier final result. Regular flour is important for the batter to adhere to the fish. Quite a lot of ratios will work, but important to note is that you shouldn’t over mix a flour batter, it will make you crust tough.

The ratio of flours : liquid in my recipe is about 1:1, in most other recipes I saw it’s something like that as well. Adding to much water will make the batter drip off your fish, adding too little will make the batter to thick.

Fried fish batter, why the batter?

Why fry fish with a batter and not just the fish by itself? Well, a good reason for that is to protect the fish from the fat and heat of the deep fryer. The batter can protect the fish and also prevent the product from becoming very oily. Furthermore, what’s better than a nice crispy crunchy piece of fish (or vegetable, or anything else you’d like to fry)?

So what happens in the batter during frying? Well, as soon as the product touches the oil, water will start evaporating and if your batter contains a ‘bubbling agent’ this will make extra gas bubbles. In the meantime the proteins and starch in the flour will do their work. The proteins will denature and form a firm network, the starch will swell up and support this structure as well.

I’ve also seen recipes with an egg, the egg can give some extra fattiness to the batter as well as extra structure. The proteins will coagulate and help forming a stable crust.

The temperature while frying is very important as well. Most temperatures I’ve seen at around 170C. If it’s too cold the crust on the outside of the water won’t form fast enough. As a result, the crust doesn’t protect the inside and a lot of fat can be absorbed. However, if it’s too high your fish will burn before the inside is cooked!

freshly baked kibbeling with some mayonnaise

My own Kibbeling

My kibbeling worked out ok. The taste was good and it was slightly crispy. However, we made the mistake of throwing in several pieces together without splitting them properly. This caused them to stick together (the parts that touched formed a crust immediately), as a result, the batter in between the fish didn’t fry and was undercooked. Our later batches certainly improved compared to the first few, becoming more crunchy.

For a next try I’d like to try out some different flours and ratios, will be curious how that works out.


My inspiration:

While writing this blog post I’ve been going by a lot of other blogs, all giving batter recipes, here’s a selection:, Use Real Butter, Alexandra cooks, I am a food blog, Just one cookbook (I like the extensive explanation here!)

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