I was at Costco today and saw a big package of wild perch. It got my mind thinking about a recipe for black pepper shrimp that I read the other day in Gourmet. It also got me thinking that I could have a reason to use my big power outdoor burner which I bought two years ago, and affectionately call R2D2. I've used it less than ten times, and it bugs me that I haven't used it this summer. All of that coalesced into tonight being a fish fry.
I'm enough of a Food Network geek to know the basics of frying, but since I haven't done it, I thought I'd look into Jacques Pepin's book on techniques. He suggested soaking the fish in beer, and so I snooped around and found some Guinness and started soaking them.
I decided to modify several of the recipes I found. I liked the idea of a lot of black pepper, and it seemed like a good idea to mix corn starch and flour. With that, I added a really good dry rub I got from a place down in Texas called Rudy's. I thought it might make a tasty combo.
I fired up the burner, got my thermometer on the side of the pot and got my "mise en place" all in order for dipping, dredging and holding the cooked fish. I waited for the pot to hit the magic 375º and then started doing a few batches.
I've learned a lot through this first time out. The fish was alright for a maiden voyage, but I'll look forward to tweaking it so that down the road I can have some fish fry parties (with some accompanying hush puppies!).
A few things I've learned:
1. For a mild fish like perch, Guinness is too strong a beer. You can really taste the Guinness, and though it's good in a cake, not so much in fish. I think a nice light Hefeweizen would work really well, especially one with a citrusy flavor like Shiner's Hefe.
2. You've got to make sure that there's plenty of seasoning in with the flour. At first I didn't have enough, and so I mixed a little bit more in and it was better.
3. It's vital to keep the temperature as close to 375º as possible. Fortunately I never overcrowded the pan to overwhelm the thermal mass of all of that oil, so the temp didn't go down too much. But it kept rising, and unfortunately it was getting too hot towards the end.
4. Don't over cook it! Better to undercook slightly, since the one time I tried for a real nice golden brown look, all of the moisture was cooked out of the fish. I think some recipes for frying call for baking soda in the flour to help with browning--I think I'll try this next time.
5. Make sure you have malt vinegar before doing a fish fry.
6. Not having malt vinegar with fried fish is a travesty.
7. Even if you fry outside, you still have to take a shower immediately after if you plan to be with people...I smelled like a Fryolator and had to take a shower before I went to my concert tonight.