Lent feeds seasonal fried fish cravings
By: Suzanne Corbett
Call me sacrilegious but I never feel I’m sacrificing anything on meatless Fridays during Lent. I will happily stand in line at any fish fry for however long it takes to eat my share of the Lenten catch. And I’m not alone. From now until Good Friday literarily tons of fish will be fried and served at local churches, VFW halls and community centers.
Granted, there are people who have never taken in a fish fry. These folks ask,“What’s the big deal?”
Beyond the experience, price and community support, the answer is simple – the fish tastes great because it’s fried right.
The secret to any successful fish fry is deep-frying, a classic cooking technique anyone can learn.
No matter if you’re frying fish to feed a congregation or a family of four, begin by choosing the right oil. You want an oil that has a light flavor and a high smoke point, such as peanut, safflower or canola oil, because when oil begins to smoke it’s a sign that it’s too hot and is breaking down, which will affect food flavors. To help control and monitor your oil’s temperature invest in a good thermometer.
“We recommend frying catfish at 350 F for optimum results,” said Jeremy Robbins, vice president of The Catfish Institute. “Of course you can fry fish hotter but you certainly don’t want to fry fish any lower than 350 F, which can cause fish to it take on too much oil, and that means greasy.”
Catfish has a light flavor and texture that fries up beautifully at 350 F using traditional coatings as a cornmeal breading or a tempura-style beer batter. Other fish that have a firmer texture, such as jack salmon and shrimp, or have heavier breading, fry better at 375 F.
No matter which fish you fry remember to fry in small batches. Overcrowding the fryer with large batches can lower oil temperature.
Finally, before frying anything gather the right tools for the job such as long-handled tongs, slotted spoons or a fry basket. To prevent food from sticking to these tools dip them first in the hot oil just before using. Once fish reaches a golden brown color it’s done. Remove from the oil, drain on paper towels; then cover with foil and keep warm by placing in a single layer on a rack placed on a baking sheet in a 200 F oven.
After Lenten fish fry season ends, plan to stage your own fish fry at home. Just remember to follow the deep fry basics and give one of the following recipes a try, courtesy of The Catfish Institute and Pushcarts & Stalls: The Soulard Market History Cookbook.
4 U.S. farm-raised catfish fillets
1/2 cup pre-packaged fish breading
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 1/2 –2 cups frying oil
Combine fish breading and Creole seasoning in a shallow bowl. Coat catfish in breading. Lightly shake off excess breading. In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat to reach 350 F. Fry catfish until golden brown, approximately 3 minutes, per side. Drain on paper towels.
The Catfish Institute serves its Cajun Catfish with Honey Bacon Potato Salad (recipe at uscatfish.com/recipes). If you are following Lenten laws make the potato salad without the bacon.
Fish Fry Jacks
Servings: 2 – 4, depending on the
size of the jacks
4 whole, skinless jack salmons (whiting)
1 cup milk
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 cup white cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
salt and red pepper to taste
1/4 cup milk
oil for frying
3/4 cup bottled barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Place jack salmon in a shallow dish. Pour milk over fish, add lemon slices; cover and chill for an hour.
Mix together the cornmeal and flour and place in a shallow dish. Remove fish from milk, season with salt and red pepper; set aside. Beat together the egg and 1/4 cup milk; dip fish in egg mixture, then roll into cornmeal mixture.
Using a deep fryer or skillet, set at 375 F or medium high, deep fry fish in hot oil until golden brown – about 5-8 minutes. Remove from oil, drain on paper towels. Heat together barbecue and Worcestershire sauces. Serve warm red sauce with fish.
Church Lady Spaghetti
Servings: 6 – 8
2 16-ounce cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon Italian spice blend
1 pound thin spaghetti, cooked and drained
salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan heat together tomato sauce and tomato paste. Add in garlic and Italian spices, bring to the boiling point, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Pour sauce over cooked spaghetti and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with Parmesan cheese.