Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Friday Night Fish Fry

I’m not exactly sure how it became such a staple of Western New York’s regional cuisine, but every Friday night, all over this part of the Empire State, countless hundreds of restaurants feature what’s simply called a “fish fry.”

It’s a boneless fillet of haddock, usually dipped in some type of beer batter and served humbly with tartar sauce, fries, baked potato, or as you see here, mashed potatoes. I enjoyed this fine example at Countryside Family Restaurant, a few miles from my mom’s home, and it was awesome.

I really want to do a demo for this recipe, especially since I’ve had hundreds of requests for “fish and chips,” which I assume this is a direct descendant of, but to do it properly you really should use a nice big deep-fryer. I may get a turkey fryer in anticipation of the holiday season, and could break it in with this fabulous fish dish. If you have any “fish fry” memories, please feel free to share!

34 comments:

Ed Adams said...

I love fish & chips, my grandmother was british and introduced me to them and a young age. I have no fry stories except for one. The first time I deep-fried a turkey. I won't go into details because there just isn't enough space. The final result was delicious as you would expect. The interim however almost had me in the hospital. I pre-measured all my oil like I'm supposed to but the turkey was just too big for the pot I was using and I ended up standing in a large fireball, losing the hair on my arms all while the party I was cooking for stood safely behind the sliding glass door and laughed.

Atticus said...

In SW PA Friday fish fries during Lent are key. I forget the exact numbers but years ago one volunteer fire fighter told me "we do about 1/2 of our yearly fund raising from those fish fries" in those four weeks. The odd part is, the food is not that good, and kinda over priced, but everyone goes. The lines can get really long. I guess it is a community thing from days gone by?

Chris K. said...

Friday night fish fries are a remnant of the Roman Catholic dietary observance: no meat on Fridays. It's a sin! For whatever archaic reason, the Papacy doesn't consider fish to be meat. And the upstate/western regions of NY were populated by a lot of Catholic immigrants (Irish, Italian, etc.). So there ya go.

My go-to deep frying utensil at home is a 6-quart Dutch oven. The biggest challenge with deep frying at home is maintaining the oil's temperature stability, and cast iron seems to work the best (although it's far from perfect). Those namby-pamby counter top electric deep fryers are a worthless, messy waste of time.

Chibby said...

It's because of Catholicism.I still don't understand how people can not classify fish as a meat.It's the flesh of an animal.

Paul said...

Long story short, Chef, people eat fish on Friday to avoid eating meat in order to remember Jesus Christ’s suffering at the cross. It is a disciplined diet observed by the Christianity faith.
Catholics must not necessarily eat fish on Fridays. They just must abstain from eating the flesh of meat on Fridays of Lent (obligatory), or all other Fridays if they don't choose some other form of penance.
This being said, you can go vegetarian for Friday, as example.

Keep it up with your recipe and with the amazing "and as always, enjoy" !

Chef John said...

Yes, as a former catholic I know the fish/Friday thing, but was more wondering about this specific dish's local popularity. ;)

Monica said...

Very little of US culinary cooking on the east coast is original they are all variations on what they brought with them from the old world. The Brit's have eaten battered fish for centuries and mashed potatoes was often served over chips(french fries)because you can use left over boiled potatoes, no not a New England original. Add to that the East Coast was invaded by migrants from Europe where fish and Friday were synonymous (for the reason stated by Paul).

thisdamecooks said...

This reminds me of fish n' chips from Sausalito in the 70s - H. Salt Esquire was the name of the place. Makes my mouth water just looking at it. Hope you do a video on how to make the batter.

Axel14222 said...

I use a dutch oven too with a candy thermometer, but retaining the right temperature isn't easy on the stove top.
Here in Buffalo, as I recall, the fish was always breaded before we "discovered" beer batter and when Lake Erie fish was still considered safe, the fish on your plate was yellow pike (walleye) or blue pike, now extinct. Today it's usually haddock and it's always served with fries or some other choice of potato, cole slaw, lemon and tartar sauce.
Chef, that picture alone is making my mouth water and it's six days until Friday!

Vanssmomc said...

Live in Rochester, NY and you are so very right, it is definitely a staple for Friday night dinners here in western NY. Our local favorite is a restaurant called Charlie's in Ontario and also Webster, NY. Some restaurants do beer batter, some are breaded, but either way, we love our fish frys!!

Anonymous said...

Fish, chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce, you can't beat it. Not so much now but in the UK this would be a normal Friday night teatime treat. Mother would send me up the chip shop to get it and halve the town would be there as well!

Rick Glos said...

This is also a right of passage in Wisconsin where typically Walleye caught from numerous local lakes all over the state, is served at Friday Night Fish Fry's all over the state - there are also many deviations of this - pan fish; bluegill, sunfish, perch, etc.

Food Junkie said...

The best fish and chips I have ever had have been served in Victoria, B.C. There are a couple of spots, like Barb's that serve large, thick pieces of fish perfectly fried in batter. I've had none better anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a catholic thing. It was always a good tradition because it forced different food and recipes. In our area fish fry is breaded LAKE Perch, always lake perch. Yum.

Matt Zielinski said...

Chef John, I actually just went for a Fish Fry yesterday at a place in Lackawanna, NY on Abbott Road down the street from the Bills Stadium. Their fish is great there, but they do a few things differently that I quite enjoy.

First of all, they don't use haddock. I'm actually not sure what they use (it might be whitefish, though I would think that's kinda cost prohibitive.) Also the fish is breaded, not battered, but to me it's always less greasy than other places, so I enjoy that. Lastly, is the sides: coleslaw, french fries, macaroni salad, and -- wait for it -- lazy pierogi. Amazing. (Also, this is an AmVets post, so a pint of Yuengling is only $1.50 which may be the best thing of all.)

I know breaded non-haddock may not be the most traditional WNY fish fry, but I grew up with that for years. This place is a slightly different variation that I always enjoy.

Woody Monk said...

I've never been to the States but this looks like a traditional Dutch dish called 'een gebakken' or 'lekkerbekje', perhaps best translated to 'a fried one'. The Dutch origin of the dish would make sense as its NY.
Anyway, for the Dutch 'lekkerbekje' the fish fillet is covered in a batter of flour, milk, water, salt and usually dill or other herbs. The most used fish types are actually low fat, like whiting and atlantic cod.
It's eaten on the market from a paper with some remoulade.

Chef John said...

Thanks for all the great fish fry info! I had no idea it was so popular elsewhere.

Unknown said...

I was born and raised in Wisconsin and yes, Friday night Fish Fry is a staple! Usually it was cod, haddock, or as someone else said, a local fresh-caught fish like walleye or perch, and always served with coleslaw and some kind of potato (one local place even served it with potato pancakes with applesauce...mmmm.) Now I live in Texas and mention of "Friday Night" Fish Fry gets me crosseyed looks from anyone born and raised here. Fried catfish is a local staple but not specifically on Friday nights. And I have yet to find haddock ANYWHERE, in stores or in a restaurant...I miss it so much. It's one of the things about Wisconsin I miss the most since I moved down here.

Anonymous said...

I've been into fishing for about 3 years and I catch a ton of walleye in at my Cabin in Canada. The fish is great and I've tried a bunch of batters but I'd love to see a video of yours to really get a great one I could repeat!

Anonymous said...

Yes Chef John it seems the fish thing is a common theme on Fridays. Also I know another delicacy served mainly on Fridays is white pudding, which you tend to find in places such as Scotland and Eire.

Phong Hong said...

Chef John, I love any kind of fish fry or rather as I always call it, fried fish. Fish with batter as in fish n chips with tartar sauce is one of my favorites. I also like our local fried fish where we rub the fish with tumeric powder and salt and deep fry it. Would you believe it that I have never fried fish in my whole life? Why? Because I am a scaredy cat when it comes to hot oil splattering from the pan. Arrgh!!! Am looking forwards to your fish fry recipe. Who knows I may conquer my fear and just do it!

Anonymous said...

Where do I suggest a recipe? There is no twice baked potato recipe on here, amazing! Yes, that is my suggestion!

damien said...

so is the next video fish fry or Borscht, cause im so hoping fish fry's coming out

Blue Arc said...

I just loves me some fish and chips. Never been to a fish fry. Don't know squat about catholic ism. I'm a heathen, but...I just loves me some fish and chips!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef
I just have to leave a comment on this one. First I know your from up Geneva way, we're down in the Southern Tier, down Seneca Lake towards Watkins Glen, Corning and Elmira . You've hit Cornell Chicken,Salt Potatoes, Chicken French,Chicken Spiedies and now the "Fish Fry". Being a good Catholic area we all had to have our fish on Fridays. Down here they have a few twist that maybe your "left coast" friend have never tried. One is Fish Parm, made just like chicken parm, but justing the fried fish instead..maybe over a little angle hair , it's to die for.When we were kid we had to eat Cream Cod over mashed Potatoes(Uck..we were forced to eat that..bad memories. What's next Liver and Onions,love your recipes can't wait for the fish recipe to try.
Thanks

Anonymous said...

I'm almost certain you can't grow up black in America without having experienced several fish fries, haha. My dad's black and his family always have fish fries at the park. The men would fish all morning and catch TONS of catfish. They were soooooo good! Just hot sauce and a fork!

Anonymous said...

If you keep a jar of sourdough starter in your fridge, use that as a batter. The starter is a converted protein that makes for an extra crispy crust. I cut haddock into one inch strips, coat them with sourdough and then a light dusting of flour (I know, that sounds backwards, it's not). Fry in a well seasoned cast iron skillet with 1/8 inch of peanut oil. Use a splash screen as the fish enjoys spitting at you. If you're not in the mood for chips, make some tacos (don't forget a squeeze of lime :)

Mark Ryan said...

Living in Newfoundland, I'm no stranger to Fish n' Chips, however to get the authentic thing you need to use Cod. It's what the British originally used and it's the only thing we Newfies use. With a side of home-made french fries, potentially doused in either vinegar, or the somewhat odd Dressing and Gravy. The dressing is usually made with a locally grown herb known as savoury by the way, although I'm not sure where you would find that in America (other than through ordering it online). Yes, we Newfoundlander's are strange.

TL;DR Make it with Cod.

Anonymous said...

Growing up in the 60's in South Texas on the Gulf coast, the Fish Fry was always popular with schools, churches and the fire department for fund raisers. Back then, catfish was considered inedible (it still is ;-) and the fish a choice was usually the salt water Red Fish. The fish was battered with seasoned flour and corn meal and served with fried Hush Puppies. Very different from the traditional fish and chips, but just as tasty... Lee

William said...

Chef John, you need to do a true Upstate NY fish fry, a Doug's Fish Fry!

Anonymous said...

In Wisconsin it is a staple from the top of the state down. Friday night is for fish frys. Not just during lent. And EVERY restaurant has it that isn't a specificly geared outfit.(pizza, asian, ect) Brandy old fashions and friday night fish. I love it. I prefer the breaded vs the battered.

Fiona said...

Hi, I'm in Ireland & have just found your blog & I'm enjoying looking through all your posts. You've given me lots of inspiration for new dishes to try out.
Yes, fish on Fridays was a Catholic thing introduced here & I think because it was forced upon us as children here, an awful lot of people claim to hate fish which is a shame.
I cook & eat alot of fish but one of my favourite ways is either haddock or dover (black) sole in beer batter. Batter was originally used as a protective coating for the fish. It would have been served encased in the batter but this would have been discarded, never eaten. It took quite a long time for people to catch on to actually eating it.
The best beers I've found for this are Coors Light or Budweiser.
My easy batter mix is 12 tablespoons of plain flour, a shake of salt & black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice & a 330ml bottle of beer. Just whisk it up, dip your fish first in flour & then into the batter & straight into your hot oil.
This mix is thick enough to puff up & go crispy & protect the fish but not so thick as to become doughy. Delicious!!!

Michael Gifford said...

I'd never heard of "fish fry" until I moved to Buffalo, but I've certainly eaten my fair share of this great dish since arriving a few years ago. I already loved fish and chips, so I was delighted to learn that you can get relatively decent fish fry almost anywhere around here. Would love to learn how to make this from the master.

mte333 said...

I go out twice a week for fried fish. Always haddock and always a large piece. Doug's near Syracuse NY is the best. Extra tartar sauce, a must. Best in peanut oil.