Well, the first step in pan frying fish is obviously to catch a mess of fish. It just so happens that recently the Roaming Parkers got word of a spot where the fish were biting! A buddy of ours went to this spot and caught 80 fish and we showed up the next day and found that he hadn’t made much of a dent in the population.
We put four hooks in the water and discovered they were about 3 feet down and that they love crickets! We started pulling in two and three at a time. One fish actually leapt up onto the dock and called out, “Cook me! Cook me!” In about an hour and a half we caught 30 eating-sized bluegills! We could have probably caught another 15 or 20 before dark, but why be greedy!
Next came the cleaning of the fish. We cut the heads off right behind the gills, cut the pectoral fins off, make an incision from the anus forwards and scooped out the viscera. Then we used a spoon to scrape off the scales and rinsed the fish.
There’s probably as many ways to cook a fish as there are fishermen, but I figured pan frying to be about as easy as it gets. I mixed up some cornmeal, salt, pepper, and garlic (all to taste) and broke 3-4 eggs into another bowl. I dredged 3-4 pieces at a time in the egg and then the cornmeal mix and dropped them into a half inch of hot oil.
While each batch was frying I dredged the next batch. Two or three minutes on each side was all it took to turn them golden brown and fork-flaky.
I drained them on paper towels, but don’t tell my mother-in-law because she swears that you only drain fried fish on crinkled up aluminum foil. That is a great way to get a lot of excess oil out of the fish and keep them crispy, but I didn’t have any foil with me. These turned out just fine!
Now, you can’t have a fish fry without a side item or two. While I was frying the fish I’d put a couple of trays of crinkle-cut french fries into the oven at 425 degrees F to bake. For the coup de grace, I took all the leftover cornmeal mixture and added half of an onion diced and a whole large jalapeno (straight from my garden) diced. I mixed all this and added in the excess dredging egg and a touch of milk to make a batter for hushpuppies.
Hushpuppies are a southern thing. The story goes that back in the day cooks would drop bits of cornmeal into cooking grease and then feed them to dogs to shut them up and keep them away from the fryer – but then folks figured out that they made good people food if you’d add a bit of onion and green peppers and maybe kernel corn.
Hushpuppies are usually deep fried in enough oil to submerge them, but I usually just do a batch at the end of a pan frying session. Form the batter into balls about 1.5 inches round and drop them into the oil. As they darken, turn them once or twice to get all the sides exposed to the oil. Then scoop them out and drain them.
The final step in any food fish fry is to get a bunch of friends to come help you do the eating. It’s usually not hard to get a handful of volunteers, and sure enough, we got three friends to help the seven Roaming Parkers with this most important step.
There’s even a story that goes along with the washing of the dishes! As we were getting ready to eat, I still had a pan of 350 degree oil on the stove. I didn’t want Cady to pull it off onto her head so I set it on the concrete walkway outside – and promptly forgot about it.
When I woke up the next morning I discovered that some helpful critter had lapped up the fishy, cornmealy oil and had licked the pan clean – as in not a speck of evidence that there’d ever been any oil in that pan! We saw some raccoon prints nearby so we thanked our masked helper, hit the pan with a dose of antibacterial soap and some scalding hot water, and were finished with our fish fry.