Saturday, June 2, 2012

Gone Fishin' - and a guide to great fish fillets meals

Growing up I enjoyed many a fishing trip with my mom and aunt. I was born late in life, so by the time I was 10 they were in their 50's, but still felt the need to ensure I had the fishing trip experience.  We didn't often catch enough to make dinner, but just the attempt was rewarding in so many ways.  I still chuckle when I remember one of our first outings where we hauled a full bag of charcoal down a large embankment lakeside, followed by our fishing tackle and of course easels and our other painting supplies.  (What fishing trip could be called complete if you weren't painting the scene while waiting for a nibble!)  We had coolers of food (should our efforts not be successful), lawn chairs and other necessary supplies. After a full day of fun which did not result in a fish dinner, we attempted to return to the car with all of our supplies. The car was now up the embankment which was damp and slippery.  We fell multiple times and began laughing so hard at our folly that we eventually collapsed and enjoyed the moment before finally working out how we would get that very heavy bag of charcoal up the hill to the car.

"Rustys Day at the Lake" -Rick Short
Today they say fish is good for the heart because of its if nutrients and low fat qualities.  While that may be true, I think most fisherman would tell you just spending time in the tranquil surroundings while fishing is equally as good for the heart and mind, whether you are young or old.

But in this fast-paced world it is unlikely you will be catching your own dinner, so today I'm only talking about fillets of fish, boneless and skinless, which you assumingly got from your local market.

Throughout much of America, a traditional 'fish fry' is a common site.  You often find them served on Friday's because of the country's Catholic population which dates back to a time when those of that faith were prohibited from eating meat on Friday.  While that is no longer the case, the tradition of a fish dinner on Friday still remains.  With all of the news about beef and other issues from too much red meat, fish fillets are a good, easy way to provide your friends and family with a delicious and, if prepared well, healthy dinner.

Some of you are no doubt already saying you don't like to cook fish because of the lingering odor it can leave in the house. Cooking fish outdoors is a great alternative and I give you my favorite recipe for that below. In the house however, there are a couple techniques and fish choices you can make which pretty much take care of the fish odor.  The best of these is to soak the fish in milk for 20 minutes, then drain and pat dry.  Of course, baking fish is healthier than frying and this is how I usually prepare fish when having dinner for just 2-4 persons.  Baking it with a white wine also helps to ensure your home doesn't smell like fish the next day.


2 thick skinless Cod fillets
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. dried Italian Seasoning (or just oregano)
1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
1/3 cup white wine

Soak the fish in milk for 20 minutes, drain and pat dry.  Preheat oven to 400F.  Mix the bread crumbs with the seasonings.  Spoon in 1 tablespoon of the melted butter and stir to combine.  Place the remaining melted butter in a flat dish and turn the Cod fillets coating them in the butter.  Add the white wine to a baking dish and place the cod fillets in the dish.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until done when tested with a temperature probe (interior of the thick fillets should be approximate 150F.)


2 lb. skinless Haddock, Orange Roughy or Tilapia fillets
Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. bread crumbs [Panko style preferred for crispness]
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried parsley

Soak the fish in milk for 20 minutes, drain and pat dry.  Mix bread crumbs with salt, pepper, oregano and parsley.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Grease flat baking dish and heat it thoroughly in the preheated oven.  Spread fillets lightly with Dijon mustard on both sides. Sprinkle lightly with additional salt and pepper. Roll in seasoned crumb mixture.  Place the fish fillets in the preheated baking dish. Bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes or until done (thin fillets like Tilapia will cook more quickly)


When frying, it's helpful to have a long-handled, slotted spoon and long handled tongs.  For this recipe you can use a heavy cast iron skillet stove top, an electric deep fryer indoors or an outdoor gas deep fryer with or without the basket.  Always dip tools in hot grease first so food will release quickly. Have a shallow pan nearby to set hot tools on between uses.

When deep frying, I recommend using a cooking thermometer or an electric deep fryer with built in temperature gauge. This will assure you are cooking the fish at a safe temperature.  Place the thermometer in the cool oil and allow it to come up to temperature as the oil heats.  Placing a cold thermometer into very hot oil could cause it to break.  

The oil is ready when it is 350F-375F.  I prefer to start cooking fish at the higher temperature, as the temperature will fall when you begin adding the fish.  Cooking at a lower temperature will result in greasy fish fillets. 

When cooking large quantities of fish outdoors, it's helpful to place the raw fish fillets into ice chest to hold until ready for cooking, as you fry in smaller batches.  After batches are fried, they are best sent to the table immediately.  If you have a large crowd this means you will continue to cook while groups begin eating.  While the following recipe serves 4 adults and is designed for the stove top technique, you can simply scale up the recipe to serve any number for a large outdoor fish fry.  

1 1/2 pounds catfish fillets
3 tbsp seasoned salt
1 tbsp Old Bay seasoning (or spicy paprika) (optional)
14 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsps parsley leaves (minced or dried)
2 tbsps minced garlic
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
sprinkle of salt
malted vinegar and/or tartar sauce for serving

If frying in the house, soak the fish in milk for 20 minutes, drain and pat dry. Place the catfish in a shallow bowl or baking dish. Season the fillets with 1 tablespoon of seasoned salt. Add the lemon juice, parsley, and garlic. Turn the catfish several times to coat evenly. Allow mixture to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, Old Bay and the remaining spices in a shallow bowl. Begin heating the oil over medium-high heat.   While the oil is heating, remove the catfish from the marinade and dredge a few pieces in the cornmeal mixture, coating evenly. Dredge only the number of pieces that will fit into the first batch.  When the oil reaches temperature, add the catfish, in batches of similar sized pieces, to the hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once, about 6 minutes in all until golden brown.

Remove catfish from the skillet/fryer with a slotted spatula and drain on paper-towels. Season with salt while hot and serve immediately with additional vinegar and sauce.

Fried fish is traditionally served with baked beans, cole slaw, hush puppies, french fries and iced tea.

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