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Love fish? Try cooking fillets Wisconsin style
Nothing brings together friends, family and communities like a giant sit-down dinner – no matter where you live. Whether it’s a Hawaiian Luau, a Western barbeque, gallons of gumbo in New Orleans or a New England lobster boil, sharing a hearty meal with mobs of happy people seems to bring out the best in all of us.
Anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes in Wisconsin knows the sacred get-together meal in the badger state is a good-old-fashioned Friday night fish fry, preferably with fried curds and plenty of beer. Throughout this German-influenced North-Midwestern state the menu every Friday evening – in virtually every restaurant within Wisconsin’s proud borders – is centered around fried fish of one kind or another, but preferably perch or walleye.
A fish fry, even those not conducted on Friday, offers more than food – it’s a traditional opportunity to talk with friends, old and new, about favorite fishing spots, fish-frying recipes and the most recent Green Bay Packer results, all while glomming together as a great, big family to enjoy a preferred local catch.
In the event you’ve never participated in a proper fish-fry, we wanted to share with you some Wisconsin inside information regarding the way people up north “fry up” their fish.
(The following recipe and photos were provided by Ryan Zernzach, a true fish expert who helps manage the state’s fisheries as a technician and sometimes-boat-caption for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.)
Friday Fish Fry
This simple breading technique is light and crispy with just a hint of lemon for a little zing. It works well with a variety of freshwater fish. For our get-together, everyone brought their favorite catch.
What you will need:
- Food processor or blender
- Two large bowls
- Paper towels
- Deep fryer or large frying pan
- Cookie sheet with sides
- 5 lbs of fish filets (we used walleye, perch and bluegill fillets)
- 2 sleeves of saltine crackers
- 1 bag of Louisiana brand fishy fry breading mix (we used the kind with real lemon added)
- 4 eggs
- 1 quart of whole milk
For tartar sauce:
- 1 c. Mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. lemon juice (from lemons above)
- 3 tbsp. sweet pickle relish
- 1/2 tsp yellow mustard
First, ensure all fish are properly cleaned, filleted, bones removed and washed thoroughly. Begin heating your oil to 350-375 degrees.
Next, create your egg wash. Crack the four eggs into a large bowl. Pour in the quart of whole milk. Mix until well blended, but do not over beat. Set aside.
Blend the crackers with the food processor until very fine. In the second large bowl, mix the blended crackers and the breading mix. Blend together with a fork to incorporate the two dry ingredients.
Then, bread your fish. Allow several fillets to soak in the egg wash for 1-2 minutes. Then gently coat the filets in the breading by tossing them in the bowl. You will want a nice light coating, no clumps. Do this until you have all the fillets breaded.
By now, your oil should be the correct temperature and you are ready to fry.
Prepare a large baking sheet with one layer of paper towel. This will be to absorb any excess oil from the finished fish. Slowly drop the breaded fillets into the oil. Do not overfill the fryer or pan. 3-4 small filets at a time is ideal. Allow the filets to get golden brown, then remove them from the oil with a wire spatula. Move cooked filets to the cookie sheet to cool.
For a tasty tartar sauce to serve on the side …
Mix the mayonnaise, lemon juice, sweet pickle relish and mustard together in a bow. Let chill for 10-15 minutes.
Don’t be surprised if this perfectly fried fish doesn’t make to table! It’s hard to resist an extensive taste test, but we promise it will be sure to get the gang complimenting your fish-fry skills.