One of our favorite Friday night activities almost always involves going to a Fish Fry. I had no idea what a big deal they were in Wisconsin until we moved here. When we lived in Las Vegas and Anthony would go fishing in Canada, we would always have a Fish Fry with friends and family once he was back to celebrate all of the delicious fish he had (hopefully) caught. Anthony thought it was hilarious when my Dad would say “I can’t wait to have that deep-fat-fried-fish!” Anthony would complain “Man,why’s he gotta make it sound so wrong?” He didn’t realize my Dad was paying him a compliment, and yes it IS deep, fat and fried. And greasy. And well, delicious.
While you can get to a Fish Fry most any Friday night in Wisconsin (learn more here, here and here) and some Wednesdays too, they really get crazy during Lent. Meaning every VFW Hall, Lions Club, random church, etc. has their own version of a Friday night Fish Fry. Tonight may be the holiest of all Fish Fry nights being that Lent has just about wrapped up.
Wisconsinites are pretty serious about their Fish Fry and which one is THE BEST to go to. We’ve tried a handful of places and have many more to explore. Everyone’s criteria is different, and we are no exception. We’ve tried it on a paper plate and I think we prefer it on an actual dish. We’ve tried it in a large banquet room and while the fish was fantastic, the ambiance was not there. We’ve tried it in a no-nonsense small restaurant and for the nights when we don’t care about having the whole package (fish, price, ambiance & close proximity), that is our go-to place. Our standard is the Duck Inn in Delavan. It’s easy, just down the street and we always know it’s going to be good, with its fabulous old-fashioned Wisconsin Supper Club ambiance.
Here are the basics of any great Fish Fry:
1. Fish (of course). The standard is Cod, but there are many other options, depending on the place. Perch, Walleye, Shrimp, Smelt, Bluegill, and any other white fish. Don’t forget the lemon wedges.
The fish is battered, breaded or baked. I’m not a very accomplished (read terrible) cook so I didn’t really understand the difference between battered or breaded. I mean, fried is fried right? NO, it’s not. Breaded fish is dipped in an egg batter and then a dry mixture. It can be bread crumbs, flour, cracker crumbs or Anthony’s favorite – crushed up corn flakes. Battered fish has a much thicker coating and is a thick liquid the fish is dipped into before it is fried. And baked, well, duh. And many times baked is actually the most delicious option.
2. Cole Slaw – I don’t care too much about cole slaw, so I could take it or leave it.
3. Potato Pancakes – another source of controversy. Next to the fish, this is my favorite side dish of the Fish Fry. The best potato pancakes are pretty crispy on the outside. And applesauce on top of these is a must. I hate mixing sweet stuff with savory, but trust me on this one. French fries are sometimes an option. Don’t even talk to me if you get those. They totally do not count.
4. Rye Bread – I’ve never met a bread I didn’t like and Rye Bread is no exception. Again, the potato pancakes really are the star of the show for me, so it all depends on how crazy I’m going to get that night. I know, we really live life dangerously here in the Midwest.
5. Tartar Sauce – I loves me some tartar sauce, but in my experience if the fish is really delicious, you don’t need much of this. And if you get the baked fish, you don’t need it at all. Don’t be surprised if you are at a Fish Fry and you get a cereal-sized bowl of tartar sauce. That’s what you do here.
I’ve learned that your opinion on what makes the best Fish Fry is based upon a few things – whether or not the fish is all-you-can-eat, the price, and of course, the quality of the fish reigns supreme. Most restaurants serve all-you-can-eat, but I have never been able to order more than one plate of fish; I think Anthony has once. I’m not judging here if you are able to put down a few plates of fish, I just don’t know how it’s done. Still a rookie, I suppose. This is just the tip of the Fish Fry iceberg. There are numerous websites, how-to guides and reviews of all things Fish Fry.
So what’s your favorite place? Does the smell of hot grease bring back nostalgic pangs of growing up in the Midwest? Are you pissed about my blatant dismissal of cole slaw? In any event, cheers to tonight’s Friday Fish Fry, and to many more “Fry’s” in our future.