Friday Fish Fry

For Christians, Lent is a season of solemn reflection on the trials of Jesus Christ in the desert; its central themes are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. All very noble concepts, if a not a little dour. Lent is also a time to enjoy delicious fried fish on Fridays, all thanks to a longstanding Catholic ban on Friday meat-eating during the season (which may or may not have been a giveaway to fisheries special interests – some things never change).

breaded fish in two layers on a plate with blue background

Martha and I have been taking full advantage of the season: we started with the wonderfully iconic Fish Fry at Saint Albert the Great’s. The very next week, we were off to the Red Stag Supper Club for the restaurant fish fry experience. I go out of my way to avoid talking about restaurants on this blog, so of the Red Stag I will say only this: I have seen the future of fish fries and it is sprayable malt vinegar. That’s right, malt vinegar in atomizers. Everyone should be doing this.

Lemon wedges sitting on a slab of wood with plates in the background.

Having done the church and restaurant things, the only venue remaining for our Lenten self-denial was our own home. Part of my motivation was a desire to pay tribute to the recently destroyed Blackbird Café, who for a long time sold a “Fish Fry” on their menu consisting of deep-fried breaded salmon fingers, fries, and tamari-beurre blanc, garnished with a lime and pickled ginger. I have vivid memories of this dish: my burning of the beurre blanc not once but twice occasioned my first severe dressing down in my short time in a professional kitchen (there would be more!). A dish tinged with penance and regret, what better meal for Lent?

Our fish was salmon, which I cut in to strips, salted and peppered, and had Martha take care of the breading, using flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. Martha learned the hard way the importance of strict adherence to a wet-hand, dry-hand regime when breading. All Lenten meals should offer such learning opportunities.

par-cooked french fries and breaded salmon filets await frying

On the side of these salmon fries, I cooked french fries using the usual two-stage method (blanch at 325ºF and finish at 375ºF). Since I had no reason to expect my beurre blanc to turn out any better than it had the first two times, I steered away from it for the sauce, choosing instead my old Turkish friend tarator. Tarator is, after all, a natural accompaniment to fish. To be extra fancy, I sieved the tarator after blending it, making it nice and smooth.

Tom adds fries to the plates for dinner from a jelly roll pan using tongs.

Comparing the home fish-fry experience to that of the church and the supper club, I can say my biggest deficiency at home is the lack of a commercial fryer. Whereas the cooks at the Red Stag can throw a pound of fish or potatoes in the fryer and expect a fluctuation of no more than a few degrees, my addition of that much food to a pathetic gallon of oil drops the temperature by more than 100ºF. And our pitiful little apartment stove just can’t kick out the BTUs to improve the situation very quickly. It doesn’t mean you can’t fry at home, it just means it’s going to take longer. But really, what’s your hurry? It’s Lent; use the extra time to reflect, damnit.

Fried salmon on a plate with a lemon wedge and a dish of dipping sauce served with french fries.

Just don’t spend so much time reflecting that you don’t realize the season’s almost over! In fact, this Friday is the last day to enjoy delicious Lenten fried fish, be it at a church, a restaurant, or at home (Good Friday is a fast day, FYI). Of course you could also fry fish after Easter, but that just wouldn’t be the same, would it?

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