It’s summer, and people are out fishing on the lake like crazy. This means the ever popular Friday Night Fish Fry is more popular than ever. I love a good fish fry, but occasionally I aim towards the healthier side of life. This means the fish should be baked instead. However, the problem with baking fish is that the fillets sometimes lose their crunchiness. This lack of crunch was a problem that I definitely wanted to solve, and as those of you who have been keeping up with my blog know, this means that I naturally reached for the panko. I realized that if I could crust chicken in panko before baking it, there was no reason that I couldn’t dredge fish in a similar manner.
I changed my dredging process a little though and decided to stick with an abundance of butter since fish tastes delicious with butter. Realistically, this baking technique could be done with any seasoning of choice, but I have found that it is AMAZING with a Cajun seasoning. The mixture of the butter flavoring with the zing of the Cajun seasoning packs a power punch of flavors that makes the fish good enough to eat without dipping it in sauce or adding anything else to it. This recipe makes up six bluegill fillets, but can easily be doubled or cut for larger and smaller serving sizes. I love that this recipe is so easy, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite options for a quick lunch during the weekend.
6 fillets Bluegill
¾ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1 tsp Cajun Seasoning (or other seasoning of choice)
½ stick Butter (melted)
1. The first step to take when baking bluegill is to set up the dredging station. To do this you need a plate for your bread crumbs and a bowl large enough to fit the fillets into. Start by mixing the panko bread crumbs and the seasoning of choice together. Pour the panko onto the plate and the seasoning into the crumbs. Then, using a fork, combine the two ingredients together and set it aside.
2. Next, melt the butter in the microwave. Let the butter cool a little before you start the dredging process. This works better if the butter isn’t extremely hot. Once the butter has come down to room temperature, it is time to give the fillets a bath. The goal is to get a nice buttery taste with every bite, so I mean it, soak the bluegill entirely in butter and let it set in the bath for at least a minute, if not two or three.
3. Quickly remove the fillet when taking it out of the butter bath, being careful not to let too much butter drip off of it while you are moving it to the next step in the dredging station, the panko.
4. When applying the panko to the fillet, I’ve found this works easiest if you set the fish fillet down on the top of the panko pile, and then use your fingers to scoop generous portions of the panko crumbs over the top of the fish until it is buried.
After the fillet has been buried, take it out gently, again being careful not to let too much excess fall off. You need to make sure that your fish is staying coated for ultimate flavor and crunchiness.
5. Once the fish has been dredged in both the butter bath and the panko station, transfer it to a greased cookie sheet. The cookie sheet should only have a slight sheen of grease on it. If you over grease it, the excess butter/oil will cause the fish to brown too much.
Kitchen Tip: Set the fillets scale side down on the pan when it is cooking. The bottom of the fillet will brown more, and for presentation purposes, it is ideal to have the nicer side of the fillet facing upwards to get the perfect golden brown crust.
6. After all of the fillets are on the cookie sheet it is time to bake them. Bake them for 15-16 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the insides are white and flaky. Then, broil them for another 2 minutes to make the skin extra crispy.
While this dish does have a lot of butter in it, I am still so happy to have found a baked fish recipe that retains the same delicious crunch that a fish fry would normally give. I hope you enjoy this healthier substitute!
Looking for a great side with this dish? Try out my Guacamole recipe!