Fish Fry ‘13
Cleaning the Fish
So We’re packing up the campsite and my nephews have once again caught their legal limit. This time the fish is coming with us. My uncle has yet to Jedi Mind Trick the guts out and skin off of these babies, though. Nope, if these suckers are going to get eaten, it’s on me to get them cleaned. Now mind you, I went hiking instead of going fishing in an attempt to get out of having to clean them. It’s not that I don’t like cleaning fish, I actually really enjoy it. I spent two years as the poissonier at one of the top restaurants in the country and I find that cutting fish has a Zen-like calming effect on me. What I don’t like is cleaning 3 dozen 6-8oz trout that were only caught and died for the amusement of small children. At this point I need to add that there are still trout in my parent’s freezer from last year’s trip because I was out of town and nobody cleaned them, so they have now become freezer ballast.
As the spoiled youngest child that I am, I had made it clear throughout the weekend that I had no intention of cleaning the fish. But when I saw that my brother had set up a cutting board and was about to try to do it himself, I had to intervene. I’m not sure if I was motivated by not wanting to see my older brother struggle and take three times as long to do a shitty job, or if it was more out of respect for the animals that had given their lives and, at the minimum, deserved to be butchered cleanly with maximum yield. Regardless, I stepped in and set up another cutting board next to my brother’s. I gave him a brief demo on how to filet these little guys, and after doing a few on his own under supervision, he started moving through them effectively. I stood next to him and removed the rib bones and cleaned up the filets to make them all Pike Place Market pretty. In less than an hour, the filets were on ice in the fridge, mission accomplished.
Cooking the Fish
Now what? I started asking around the house about when we were going to eat the fish. Do you want me to smoke some or all of it? Seeing as we had just gorged ourselves on fish the night before, nobody was really in the mood to talk about eating another 15#. And that’s how I ended up with the fish.
I’m blessed to have a great group of friends. Or maybe they just like my cooking. Either way, they keep letting me come over to their houses and cook big meals from time to time. I find this works out well for everyone involved. I can play around with stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily spend my restaurant’s money on and my friends don’t have to cook. I also don’t get stuck having to clean up my own house after everyone leaves because I get to leave when they do. The best part of it all, though, is that I get to cook for my friends and I get to sit down with them and enjoy the food with people who actually appreciate it. I’m not cooking for a bunch of snobs that are going to go Yelp about every little inconsistency or perceived flaw. (Stay tuned for next week’s installment where I go off on a tirade about people who write on line reviews.)
Back to the fish fry. I had never done a fish fry like this. I have fried fish in commercial kitchens, but never at home. Fortunately, my mom has an old electric fry pan that I was able to borrow. This allowed me to do two things, one, it allowed us to cook outside so I didn’t have grease splattering all over my friend’s kitchen and didn’t make their house smell like the Varsity, and two, I was able to set the temperature to keep it consistent and keep the oil from getting too hot.
Being in the south, I decided to soak the fish in buttermilk that I seasoned with salt and pepper. I then dredged the fillets in a mixture of Dixie Lily Seafood Breader with a little bit of corn meal. I fried them in about an inch of peanut oil at 325F. The fish were small, so I only fried them for a minute or two on each side, and then drained them on paper towels before serving.
Sides and Pairings
The rest of the meal consisted of cole slaw that I made from red and green cabbage and a couple Vidalia onions. I’ve been trying to avoid having to go on Lipitor before I turn 40, so I left out the mayo. I Julienned the cabbage and sliced the onions as thinly as I could, then dressed them with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, whole grain and Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and honey. I don’t really measure when I’m doing things like this, I just start off with what I know won’t be too much, then gradually keep adding and tasting until it’s nicely balanced and delicious. If you’re wondering what “nicely balanced and delicious” tastes like, it’s the point where you find yourself repeatedly shoveling something into your mouth, sometimes forgetting to chew as much as you should.
My friend and hostess for the evening, we’ll call her “Sara,” made an awesome tartar sauce, the recipe for which is included below. Having left the mayo out of the slaw, I allowed myself to indulge in the tartar sauce. Sara also made a phenomenal arugula salad with fresh lemon juice, EVOO, shaved parmesan and sliced almonds. What else would you want? There was also some store bought potato salad on the table, but I’m not sure anyone touched it.
As with any good meal, the beverage pairing is also of the utmost importance. For this dinner I selected a traditional American lager. Budweiser. Sometimes it’s just better to go with a classic. If you have a problem with Budweiser, you can get over yourself and kiss my ass. It’s the King of Beers for a reason. It also actually did pair well with the meal. The fish was so fresh with such a clean delicate flavor, that a stronger beer would have completely overpowered it.
We weren’t able to eat everything, so we ended up freezing the remaining uncooked filets, and will be having another scaled down version this weekend. FYI: it’s better to freeze fish than try to stretch the shelf life of it. Fish spoils much more quickly than meat and I’d rather eat fish that was frozen while it was still fresh, than fish that had not been frozen but was a day past its prime.
Enjoy the recipes.
Chef Red Beard