Not only are beer batter recipes extremely easy to master, but they’re also super versatile. Once you’ve learned the technique, you’ll look at everything from haddock filets to chicken thighs to thick-sliced cauliflower and wonder, “Will it beer batter?”
As it turns out, the answer is usually yes. Here’s everything you need to know about making the best beer batter.
What Is Beer Batter?
Beer batter is a combination of flour, beer and spices that is whisked together to create a flavorful coating for proteins or vegetables. When deep fried, it gets extra crispy and delicious.
Its exact origins are unclear, but many United Kingdom historians trace the origins of beer-battered fish to Sephardic Jews who immigrated to England in the 17th century.
While beer batter is often used to fry flaky white fish like cod, pollock or haddock, it complements all sorts of light proteins and sturdy vegetables.
“It lifts the dish a little bit, sort of like a squeeze of lemon,” says Jason Hicks, chef and owner of Jones Wood Foundry, a New York City gastropub. Hicks’ beer-battered fish and chips have a devoted following, but the method can be used on “just about anything you want to fry up,” he says.
The trick is to prepare your protein or vegetables for quick cooking. For instance, thick cuts of boneless chicken can be tenderized by pounding them with a mallet or rolling pin and then cutting them into one-inch strips for a faster fry. Vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and zucchini can be sliced into half-inch planks and parboiled in salted water until just fork-tender before frying.
Why Use Beer in Batter?
There’s culinary science at work here. “Sugars present in the beer will increase the brownability of the batter,” writes J. Kenji López-Alt in The Food Lab. “The bubbles are also essential—they create tiny, tiny pockets inside a good batter that add to our perception of crunchiness.”
Some chefs, like the U.K.’s Heston Blumenfeld, use a mix of vodka and beer to elevate the alcohol content of their batter. Since alcohol evaporates faster than water, high-proof vodka quickly dries out in the frying pan, creating a crispy coating. If you decide to go this route, use a three-to-one ratio of beer to vodka. For the recipe below, that would mean ¾ cup beer plus ¼ cup vodka.
When using beer in a batter recipe, it should be used straight from the fridge. The colder a liquid is, the better it maintains carbonation and inhibits gluten development. This is key because, as gluten forms, it makes the mixture stickier and heavier.
That’s why Melanie Underwood, owner of Gather Culinary and a former instructor at Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education, suggests using a light hand when you whisk the beer into your dry ingredients.
“I always equate it to pancake batter,” she says. “Mix it, but you can have some clumps. If it looks almost stringy or gluey, that’s how you know it’s overworked.”
What Beer Is Best in Beer Batter?
Opt for pilsners, lagers or pale ales with fairly neutral flavors–especially if you’re frying delicate fish or vegetables that can be overwhelmed by heavier beers. Reserve your rich stouts and tangy sours for chocolate cake and sorbet, respectively.
How to Make Beer Batter
This recipe is easy to customize with different proteins and vegetables. Try a flaky white fish, fileted into four-ounce pieces; tenderized boneless chicken breasts, cut into one-inch strips; or vegetables such as cauliflower or broccoli, parboiled and cut into one-inch thick planks.
If you prefer a spicier or more flavorful batter, add a quarter teaspoon of paprika, cayenne or dukkah to your flour mixture.
Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan or cast-iron skillet to 350°F.
Dust a large plate with ⅓ cup all-purpose flour. Dry the prepared protein with paper towels, and then dredge each filet or strip in the prepared plate, shaking off any extra. Rest dredged proteins on a wire rack while you mix the batter.
In a large bowl, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, rice flour and baking powder, and season well with salt and pepper. Pour the cold beer into the prepared bowl of seasoned flours and lightly whisk until just combined—it’s ok to leave some small lumps.
Submerge all filets, chicken strips, or vegetable planks in the batter, flipping to be sure both sides are evenly coated. One at a time, lower each into the hot oil , moving quickly but taking care not to splatter. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to do this in batches.
Cook until golden brown, flipping halfway through, about 4 minutes per side for fish filets, and 2–3 minutes per side for chicken strips or vegetables.
Transfer beer-battered fish, chicken or vegetables to a paper towel lined plate or clean wire cooling wrack and salt immediately. Serve hot with tartar sauce, hot sauce or a squeeze of lemon.
Last Updated: June 1, 2023