Ah, the Wisconsin tradition of Friday night fish fry.
Fish fry Friday was teased in our February 5th blog post entitled “Libations – The Wisconsin Old Fashioned: A Case For Tasty Mistaken Identity”. We are now getting around to following up on…”If you are not a native of Wisconsin, Friday night fish fry is a topic for another post.”
Why did it take so long to follow up? Mostly because we like to write about deviations on a popular theme or recipe. Last Friday we deviated from our usual Friday night fish fry, including the Old Fashioned cocktail.
For those of you who are not natives of or have never been a resident or frequent visitor of Wisconsin here is a brief history of the traditional Wisconsin Friday night fish fry.
We can thank three factors for this tradition:
- Catholicism. Catholic migration to the area who observed the Friday tradition of abstaining from red meat. In the mid 1960s the Catholic church changed the rule from every Friday to only Friday’s during the Lenten season. However, the tradition was so ingrained into the Wisconsin culture that is continues to this day..or Friday nights, if you will. More about the tradition of meatless Lent can be found in our blog post entitled “Traditions – Lenten Meatless Friday’s: There’s Meat and Then There’s Meat”.
- Prohibition. Taverns served food to stay afloat during this time. While it was illegal to sell and serve alcoholic beverages during prohibition, it was not illegal to cook with alcohol during prohibition. So…Wisconsin taverns would use a beer batter to cook their fish. The aroma of beer in the batter masked the ‘occasional’ glasses of beer slid under the table to patrons.
- Proximity to freshwater fish like perch, walleye, and bluegill.
What does a typical fish fry meal consist of? TravelWisconsin.com states it well.
“The typical anatomy of a fish fry? First, beer-battered and deep-fried perch, walleye, haddock, cod or bluegill — and in some areas, you can also get smelt or catfish. Next, the potatoes — usually French fries or potato pancakes, although some restaurants serve hash browns, fried potatoes or buttery baby reds. Then, the enhancements: crisp coleslaw, a slice of rye bread and an assortment of condiments — lemon wedges, malt vinegar or tartar sauce.”
Our variation on the traditional theme came from necessity, as do most new things. R Dub was looking for some nice Alaskan Cod during his last trip to ALDI, but that shelf was bare. What they did have was catfish fillets, so a package was purchased and placed in the freezer until needed.
Beth worked in Eau Claire last Friday. Home made fish fry was in order. When asked if she liked cat fish, her response was; “Yes, I love it blackened.”
R Dub has never blackened any piece of meat, but he knew who might be able to help. During lunch, Ron ordered some mushroom soup and a sandwich from Earl and Patty at The Natural Way organic diner and health store. Earl is a 4 star chef in the two star town of Mayville, WI. If anyone could tutor Ron, it was Earl…and he did.
What’s the secret? Earl’s first bit of wisdom; blackened does not mean burnt, it means seasoned and cooked on high heat to black. It took Earl years to perfect this skill. A warning that was taken to heart.
Earl’s second bit of wisdom; prepare for the house to fill up with smoke and the smell of blackened fish. We fired up the camp stove and cooked the fish on the deck to avoid this issue.
4 cat fish fillets
1 cup corn meal
1 cup cream or half and half
The blackening season: 1 ½ tablespoons paprika, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon ground dried thyme, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano.
Preheat a cast iron skillet on the highest heat for 4 minutes just prior adding oil and cooking the cat fish fillets. (We used avocado oil, it withstands high heat better than olive oil or butter.)
Use cream or half and half as a wash for the outside of the fillets. (We used half and half.)
Combine dry ingredients and mix with a fork or whisk.
Coat the cat fish fillets in a dry batter of blackening seasoning and corn meal. (Do not let the fish sit battered for too long before cooking, if the batter becomes too moist the texture will suffer.)
Immediately put the fillets on the hot oiled skillet, turning one time. Cook them on high heat until the meat flakes. Pull and serve.
The corn salad? Beth came up with that recipe. 2 cups of sweet corn, one small green pepper dices, 1/2 small onion diced and 2 tablespoons butter, 1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Saute the onion in butter on medium heat until translucent, add pepper and saute an additional 2 minutes, add corn, season with salt and pepper to taste, cook an additional 5 minutes add sliced tomatoes, stir and plate.
The wine? This one was Cabernet Sauvignon finished in a bourbon barrel. Beer or a traditional Old Fashioned cocktail would’ve been equally appropriate.