Just as important as catching fish, the always popular "fish fry" has motivated countless anglers to keep a few for the table.
Not all cooking oils are ideal for frying fish. The best options are vegetable oils that have an exceptionally high flash point, or what some cooks call a "smoke point". The smoke point of cooking oil is the temperature at which the grease starts to vaporize and is in jeopardy of bursting into flames. This temperature varies from 360° to about 510° depending on the oil in question.
Safflower, peanut and corn oil are among the best options for frying fish because these oils all have a very high flash point. Oils to be avoided for frying include: butter, margarine, olive oil and believe it or not lard or animal fat. The ideal frying temperature for fish is about 375° and the best way to maintain this temperature is with the help of a grease thermometer, available anywhere cooking supplies are sold.
A cast iron pot isn't the only way to fry fish, but it most certainly is one of the best options. Cast iron transfers heat better than other frying pan types, eliminating hot and cold spots in the grease. This goes double when frying over an open fire as a heat source.
The options for fish breading are almost endless and it seems everyone has their favorite commercially produced or home-made breading mix. Seasoned cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, wheat flour and corn flour are among the most common fish coatings. Bread, cracker and wheat flour yield a softer breading and corn flour yields a crunchy batter when fried.
DOUBLE DRY BREADING
Some would argue that it's the breading that gives most fish flavor. It's true that popular species like walleye are so mild in flavor, that a little extra attention to how a breading is seasoned makes sense. Some even go so far as to bread the pieces of fish not once, but twice.
Double breading gives the pieces of fried fish a little extra flavor. To double bread, simply roll moist pieces of fish in a favorite dry breading and set the pieces on a cookie sheet. Set the breaded fish aside for a few minutes until the breading starts to get sticky then roll the pieces of fish a second time in the dry breading mix.
BEER BATTER BREADING
A "beer batter" breading also gives fried fish a more pronounced coating and flavor. One of the most popular options is to take a commercially produced dry coating mix like "Drakes" and mix it with a little beer to create a batter about the same consistency as pancake batter. A standard package of Drakes breading mixes up perfectly with one 12 ounce can of beer. How perfect is that?
When using a beer batter breading it's important that the fish fillets be perfectly dry before they are dunked into the "beer batter". If the fillet is wet, the batter won't stick well to the fish.
OTHER WET BATTER OPTIONS
Beer batter is great, but there are other popular wet batter options for frying fish. A mixture of raw egg and milk whipped together makes an ideal dipping solution. Simply drop the pieces of fish into the egg and milk mixture and then roll the fish in a dry batter mix.
IS IT DONE YET?
When the fillets hit the hot grease they should start bubbling aggressively. When the bubbling starts to ease and the fillets float to the top, the fish is cooked and ready to serve.
EXTRA SPECIAL TOUCHES
A couple ways to add an extra special touch to any fish fry is to drop a spoon full of butter into the grease when the fillets are almost completely cooked. The melting butter will impart of nice flavor to the fillets and brown them up perfectly.
Also, when the fillets are cooked, drain them over the grease for a couple minutes and then dunk them back into the hot grease for about 30 seconds to a minute. This second dunking will help the fillets firm up and come out with a nice golden brown color.
SUMMING IT UP
Fried fish is always a treat but fish never tastes better than when it is fresh caught, cooked and eaten with friends and family. This year, take time master the "fish fry" and share the wealth with those you care most about.