Za’atar Fried Fish with Preserved Lemon Tartare
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An earth-shatteringly crisp plate of fish and chips may seem like a meal you need to find outside your own kitchen. But the classic dish is actually easier to pull off at home than you think—and this recipe for za’atar fried fish with preserved lemon tartare from The Modern Spice Rack, a new cookbook by Rachel Walker and Esther Clark, proves it.
For the uninitiated, za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend of toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac and dried herbs. It’s aromatic, nutty and earthy with notes of citrus, making it an optimal seasoning for seafood. “Za’atar’s citrusy notes…work particularly well with fish,” explain the authors. “The addition of chopped preserved lemon to the tartare gives it an intensely lemony flavor, but you can swap this for finely grated lemon zest, if you like.”
The fish is chilled after being breaded, which allows the egg to set with the flour, resulting in breading that adheres better once fried. This will also keep the fish from being overcooked, so you’re guaranteed chippy-caliber results every time.
Excerpted with permission from The Modern Spice Rack by Rachel Walker and Esther Clark published by Hardie Grant Books, May 2023.
1 pound and 5 ounces skinless, boneless white fish fillets, such as hake, haddock or sole
Scant ½ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1⅔ cups panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons za’atar
Canola or sunflower oil, for frying
Sea salt, to taste
⅔ cup mayonnaise
Juice of ½ lemon
1 preserved lemon, inside scooped out and skin finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers
3 cornichons, chopped
½ banana shallot, finely chopped
Small bunch dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon za’atar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Baby gem lettuce, shredded, for serving
Brioche buns, white bread or chips (fries), for serving
1. Make the fish: Cut the fish into eight chunky fingers, each about 1½ inches wide. Tip the flour, eggs and panko into three separate shallow bowls. Mix 1 tablespoon of the za’atar into the flour and 1 tablespoon into the breadcrumbs. Dip each fish finger into the flour, followed by egg, then breadcrumbs. Set aside on a rimmed baking sheet, cover and leave in the refrigerator until ready to cook (these will keep for up to 24 hours).
2. Make the tartare: While the fish chills, prepare the tartare. Mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, preserved lemon, capers, cornichons, shallot and dill in a medium bowl. Season gently with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 1¼ inches of oil in a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat and fry each fish finger for 5 minutes, turning halfway, until crispy and deep golden brown. Set aside on a plate and sprinkle with salt.
4. Serve the fish fingers with the tartare and lettuce, sandwiched between soft buns or with a pile of chips.