FRIDAY FISH: Chili Fish Nuggets with Two Sauces (Air Fryer or Oven)

…a sweet whisper of chili in both the breading and the sauces


Looking for St. Patrick’s Day Ideas? Just click on “St. Patrick’s Day” in the categories section at right to find my favorites including Salmon on Caraway CabbageIrish Soda Bread with Potato SoupSalmon on ColcannonColcannon SoupTraditional Kerry Apple Cake, and more.

Palos Hills, courtesy Chicago Trib

If you’ve followed the blog for long (THANKS!), you’ll know that I’m a midwest girl. Born to southern parents who moved north for work during the depression and settled in Chicago, I grew up with nearly all of the basic northern Illinois culture. That meant lakes or even the Kankakee River on the weekend with the whole fam, a Polish for a special lunch out whenever I could and Italian Beef or thin crust pizza (yes, thin) the rest of the time, tobogganing at Palos Hills in the winter and riding the rollercoasters at Riverview in the summer, visiting Marshall Field’s at Christmas, shopping German bakeries for coffeecake and bread, vacationing in Wisconsin and Minnesota (more lakes/more beer), and so on.

Jump to Recipe

The “so on” included fish fries on Lenten Fridays. While we protestants didn’t fast from meat on the last day of the work week, our many Catholic neighbors did and we were happy to climb on board to eat greasy fried fish and fries or soft fish sandwiches thick with pickles, onions, and tartar sauce. Lucky for us the tradition goes on and you can Check out current spots for Friday fish in Chicagoland here. By the way, while the Friday Fish Fry began in the northern midwest, it spread coast to coast in both restaurants and at Catholic churches (what a money-maker!) We now enjoy the tradition even in Colorado Springs or check out the Knights of Columbus Archdiocese of Denver  Fish Frys here. My in-laws, great Presbyterian Friday fish sandwich fans, have for years sought out the lunch specials that are now served year-round at multiple locations in Champaign, Illinois. (Earlier, like thousands of U of I students, they stuck to The DeLuxe for their fish fix, now sadly closed.)

Interestingly, Prohibition might have also played a part in establishing fish frys as a full-on event, transforming a simple dish into a social gathering. According to Wisconsin lore, bars and taverns in the 1920s were faced with a business dilemma after alcohol was declared illegal. Since fish was plentiful, cheap, and pretty easy to cook, many of them started to sell fish dinners to stay afloat, serving them with sides like coleslaw, potato salad, and fries. Some bars even used the fish dinners to disguise speakeasies, taking advantage of the fragrant oil smell.

Fishfry History/CHOWHOUND

Because I can’t escape my childhood, I’ve gotten attached to including a “fish fry” post during my own FRIDAY FISH here on More Time. There’s little that makes my husband Dave happier than fried fish (especially a sandwich–he’s his parents’ kid); he’ll regularly order it year-round if it’s on the menu. Right now Culver’s has the walleye sandwich and it’s on our schedule for this week. His addiction is easy encouragement for me to come up with something different each year and lately I’ve gotten attached to “frying” fish, or fish fillets in this case, in my air fryer (AF)— as maybe you have, too. Less oil, less calories, less cleanup, more health, and maybe faster. Yes, the AF takes up some space, but I’d say it’s worth it.

These no-added-oil Chili Fish Nuggets are my latest creation and they’re not really spicy (unless you overdo the heat in the sauces), but only contain a whisper of chili, which is just enough to make you keep eating them. If you’ve no AF, no problema; I include easy oven directions, too. Naturally, fried fish goes best with fried potatoes and if you scroll down below the recipe, you’ll see a link for a recipe close to the one I use to make air fryer fries. If you’ve time and interest (I hope you have both!), please make the sauces from scratch as they’re so much better than store-bought and only take a few minutes. You won’t be sorry when you try this:

FRIDAY FISH: Chili Fish Nuggets with Two Sauces (Air Fryer or Oven)

These "fish fry" nuggets can be made in the Air Fryer or in the oven. I tried them both ways and while the AF nuggets are def crispier, they're both yummy. They're not too spicy at all, but you can cut the heat as needed. Serve with fries and ketchup if you like. Link to AF fries in post. Make the fries first and place in warm oven while you make the fish.
4 servings


  • 1 ½ pounds cod or other white fish fillets, patted dry, salted and peppered and cut into approx. 2-inch pieces (some will be smaller or larger depending on size/shape of fillets)
  • 1 cup flour whisked together with ½ teaspoon each salt, pepper, and chili powder
  • 2 eggs beaten together with 1 tablespoon water and ½ teaspoon each salt, pepper, and chili powder
  • ½ cup each fresh breadcrumbs or crushed panko and cornmeal whisked together with ½ teaspoon each salt, pepper, and chili powder
  • Sweet Chili Sauce- homemade—see link in blog or purchased
  • Sriracha Tartar Sauce — See recipe below.


  • PREP: Make sauces and set aside. Preheat Air Fryer to 390 degrees F. for 5 minutes. Spray cooking basket with cooking spray after preheating. If cooking in oven, preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a sheet pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  • DREDGING FISH: Put the flour mixture, egg mixture, and breadcrumb-cornmeal mixture into each of three different bowls. Dip nuggets on both sides into first the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, and then the breadcrumb-cornmeal mixture, shaking them off a bit after each and patting the crumbs into both sides of the fish at the end. Place nuggets an inch apart in Air Fryer basket or on prepared sheet pan if using the oven. You’ll need to “fry” the fish in the Air Fryer in batches unless you have an extra-large Air Fryer.
  • “FRYING” THE FISH: Cook the fish in the Air Fryer 6-7 minutes OR until firm and crispy, turning fish over midway through the cooking time. Repeat with a second batch of fish in the Air Fryer if needed. Alternately, cook the fish in the oven 10-12 minutes OR until firm and crispy, turning over midway through the cooking time.
  • SERVING: Serve hot with sauces and fries, if desired. (See link in post for making the fries.)
    SRIRACHA TARTAR SAUCE: Mix together 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon each Dijon and Sriracha, 1 tablespoon each minced onion and dill pickles, and a pinch each salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.


Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2022. All rights reserved.

TIPS for making the fish, for other recipes needed, changing things up, saving $$ and preventing food waste:

You can buy this sauce (or similar) instead of making the All Recipes version .

Louisiana Fish Fry Seasoning/SAFEWAY (In case you’d rather use a quick mix instead of homemade breadcrumbs/cornmeal and spices.)

Air Fryer French Fries/FOODNETWORK I make my fries just about like this, though I cook them at 390 F.

Sweet Chili Thai Sauce Recipe/ALLRECIPES (I used this recipe, but skipped the garlic. I like being able to adjust the sugar to vinegar ratio and the amount of ginger. It’s simple and takes just a few minutes.)

A photo from another fish fry post, it’s worth seeing again. If you want your fish to taste like anything, season each element of the dredge AND the fish itself very well indeed. Here, I’ve labeled the third dredge PANKO, and while you can use PANKO mixed with the cornmeal –great for fish–here, I like fresh breadcrumbs better. Your choice. My good friend Patti tells me PANKO comes GF. Yay!

SAVE MONEY ON FISH: Buy frozen cod (or other white fish fillets) for the best bang for your buck. I like to thaw them overnight in freezer bags placed in a bowl in the fridge –no smelly drips– or in freezer bags placed in a pot of cold water for 30 minutes or so. Don’t thaw in the plastic they fillets come in; it’s not safe.

CRISPIER FISH? Drizzle uncooked fish nuggets with a tiny bit of olive oil before “frying.”

NO HEAT FOR YOU: Just skip the chili powder totally and add some garlic and onion powder to the dredges. It takes a lot to make fried fish taste like anything, so do add something to the mix. You can also skip the crushed red chili flakes in the Sweet Chili Sauce, but I think you’ll miss it.

LEFTOVER FISH NUGGETS make great tacos (heat in an oiled skillet briefly) or are yummy cold to take for work lunches. Don’t forget to bring some sauce with you.

LEFTOVER SAUCES: The tartar sauce works fine for a sandwich spread or a veggie dip or even for french fries/onion rings a la Europe. It’ll keep for a few days in the fridge, but no more. The sweet chili sauce, according to will last for months. I like it on lettuce wraps, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, or as a salad dressing.

Best way to reheat fries? Toss them with a wee bit of oil and add to a hot small grill pan or skillet. Heat for a few minutes, turning once, until hot-hot. Eat fast. (Who likes cold fries? Ok, some do.)

If you liked this, you might also like my:

Southwestern Fish Salad
Oven-Fried Fish Tacos

Stolen once more from the Episcopalians on fb.


Our local lonely solo hen turkey spotted out the car window the other day.
Does often frequent our front yard, but a few days ago several bucks came through the snow.

Yesterday we met our “kids” for lunch and walking around at a mall in Denver. Piper, 8, had decided this was the day to have her ears pierced and her parents agreed. I held her hand through the process and while frightened, she wanted to have it done more than she wanted to be scared.

Everyone had to help choose the earrings, but she went for tiny gold hearts.

All done and all smiles.

We’re on a cruise next week on the California (and Baja California) coast that includes a stop in the home of fish tacos, Ensenada, Mexico. If I get a post done to automatically post, I’ll do it–but if not, I’ll owe you an extra FRIDAY FISH.

Thanks for being in the kitchen with me; you make a large difference in my life.

Stay well and cook on,


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