Mexican Fried Fish

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Mexican crispy fish with salsas on a platter
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I’ve been obsessed with Mexican fried fish ever since I first ate it at a little Mexican seafood place called Mariscos Lauro Villar in Brownsville, Texas.

I was down there with my friends Jesse and Miguel chasing the wily chachalaca (a sort of grouse), and we saw a sign on the window that said “Chicharron de Catan.” Huh? Fried gar? Catan being the local word for alligator gar; everywhere else in Mexico calls the fish pejelegarto.

While I was intrigued, Jesse and Miguel were over the moon — they’d eaten gar before, and I had not.

We walked into the unassuming restaurant, it’s in a strip mall next to a liquor store that has really good mezcal, by the way, and confirmed that the chicharron de pescado was indeed catan. Claro que si, the waitress said, “yes, of course.” We asked for two orders.

It was amazing. What makes Mexican fried fish different from everyone else’s fried fish is that they’re going for a sort of cracklins’ thing with their fry — really kicking the spurs to it with the hot oil. So yeah, the fish is a bit overcooked, but it is super crispy.

Add gar to the equation and it’s even better. Gar fish has a texture closer to chicken breast than to its fishy cousins: white as snow, meaty and firm.

Mexican fried fish, chicharrones de pescado
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

The dish was super simple. Fried gar on a plate with some shredded lettuce, a pickled jalapeno or two, limes and our choice of hot sauces.

Flash forward to a recent teal hunting trip to the Galveston area of Texas, and, as it happened, a guy named Austin, who takes care of the ranch we were on, brought me a little gar to cook. This was a spotted gar, not a giant alligator gar, but it’d do.

The meat was just like the alligator gar in miniature, and Austin showed me the fine art of getting inside one of these prehistoric fish; the skin on an 18-inch fish was almost as thick as that of a six-foot alligator.

Two bass and a gar, freshly caught
Photo by Hank Shaw

I seasoned the fish, coated it in egg and then flour, then — and this is important — let it rest in the fridge for an hour. This helps the coating stick to the fish better. I fried it all in fresh lard and ¡A huevo! was it good!

You don’t need gar to make Mexican fried fish, but you do need a reasonably firm fish. We made it with largemouth bass as well as halibut, and both were good. Use what you have available.

Serve your chicharron de pescado with salsa de chile de arbol as well as tomatillo salsa verde.

Mexican fried fish recipe
5 from 4 votes

Mexican Fried Fish

Use whatever fish you have available, but a firm, white fish is best. Use fresh-rendered lard if you want to be authentic, but any vegetable oil works fine. Serve with your favorite salsas. Oh, and yes, it's good in a tortilla, too.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Resting time: 1 hour

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds skinless fish, in chunks
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup flour
  • Lard or oil for frying

Instructions 

  • Season the fish with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then coat well with the beaten egg. Dust in the flour, pressing it in well. You want some eggy bits coated in flour to adhere to the fish; this give you a better texture. Put on a plate in one layer and set in the fridge for 1 hour.
  • Pour the oil into a large frying pan and get it very hot, about 350F to 360F. Fry your fish hard, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. You want them just past golden brown. If you can't fit all the fish in your pan, set up a rack on a baking sheet in your oven and set the oven to "warm."
  • Serve your fried fish with a selection of salsas or hot sauces and limes.

Notes

Note: You can skip the resting step if you need to, but it won't be as good. 

Nutrition

Calories: 410kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Protein: 49g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 236mg | Sodium: 192mg | Potassium: 895mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 346IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 198mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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5 Comments

  1. Hank,
    I saw this post and since I’m in BRO every other month I stopped by MLV to try it out. Had I not know, I would not have guessed I was eating fish. Thanks for the tip. The back room saloon at MLV looks like a great place for a private event. Love your books!
    JB

  2. Yet another revaluation from you concerning, “the unloved”! I graduated in the Rio Grande Valley, 20 miles away from Brownsville in Weslaco Texas. I caught many a gar on trot lines in the Guadalupe River, (north of San Antonio), and watched as many a gar was beaten to death and thrown up into the bank side brush, as their very existence was cursed, and they were labeled a, “trash fish”, that survives mostly on, “game fish”. In recent years I have become more open to things I thought I’d never eat, such as deer heart tartare, deer shank Mafe, crispy grilled trout tails etc., but I’ll admit, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of someone eating a gar on purpose! I live in WV now, and we have them here too, and I’ve hooked many on live minnows, while fishing for flatheads, only to have them twist and roll, promptly cutting my line with their sharp teeth! Lots of people bow fish for them even. I’m just blown away that they’re actually good to eat! A little more work, I’m guessing because of the thick skin, but a new species to target! Thanks, as always for your insight!

  3. This recipe sounds great! Never really had a use for the gar caught on the Mississippi feeder streams and rivers here in SE MO. This recipe would work great for the Asian Carp as well.

    1. We would very often eat at the original MLV in matamoros until we stopped going across. Never ate the Catan but preferred the whole fried snapper or what ever fish they had. Today I will make Catan and use your recipe.