Yankee Girl Fries Fish

I can't be there, but I thought I'd join them, anyway. I'm talking about Rep. Jim Clyburn's annual fish fry that takes place tonight in Columbia, S.C. After interviewing Clyburn's appointed fish fry guy Lucius Moultrie, I was inspired to fry up some fish in my own kitchen.

To get started, I consulted a few cookbooks, including "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by the late Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock as well as the newer "The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook," by Matt Lee and Ted Lee. Moultrie, who's been at this for 10 years, told me that his winning dredge is a combination of cornmeal and its pulverized, finer-textured sister, corn flour, which I thought would make an interesting mix of textures. I also followed Moutrie's advice on omitting a liquid binder, such as buttermilk or beaten egg, which he believes takes away from the flavor of the fish. Instead, I added a wee bit of cornstarch to act as an adhesive between fish and coating.

My cast-iron skillet was a bit snug for this job, so I used my wok, which worked like a charm, keeping the oil nice and hot. The result was a light, crispy coating with a nice balance of corn-y tooth and plenty of salt and cayenne. But what did I know -- I'm a Yankee girl.

The real test was with my Mister, who hails from the south. "You got it right, dear," he exclaimed. And then he got silent, adding more Texas Pete hot sauce and plowing through his fry.

I guess I did good.

Fish Fry

1 cup corn flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch
At least 1 pint (16 ounces) of an oil with a high smoking point, such as peanut oil or Canola oil

At least 1 pound of fish fillets of small, inexpensive species, such as whiting, drum, white perch, bream, porgies, depending on availability where you live

In a large shallow bowl, combine corn flour, corn meal, flour, cayenne, salt and pepper, and with a wooden spoon, stir to combine. Taste flour mixture for salt and heat of spice; you should be able to taste both. Add cornstarch and stir until well combine.

Season the fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Have a small bowl of water handy. Dip the fingers of one hand in water and moisten fillets, one at a time. With the other hand, dredge the fillets in the flour mixture and coat on both sides.

Heat oil in a deep cast-iron skillet or wok, until it reaches 350 degrees. With a pair of tongs, drop fish into oil, in small batches. Cook until bottom edges turn golden, then with tongs, turn on second side. Cook until second side is golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from oil, and place on a paper towel-lined plate in a 200-degree oven, while you cook the remaining fish.

Serve on white bread, like they're doing tonight in Columbia, S.C., or with fixings of your choice -- hushpuppies, slaw, fries, whatever rocks your fry boat.

Below, an ad hoc recipe for vinegar slaw that we whipped up last night.

Vinegar Slaw

1 head small green cabbage, shredded
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
1 teaspoon soy sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
squeeze of 1/2 lime
1 glug of your favorite hot sauce
Salt to taste


Place vegetables in a bowl and stir to combine. In another bowl, add vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime and hot sauce, and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning; you're looking for a balance of pungent, salty, sweet and spicy. Adjust as needed, and tinker gradually. Pour over vegetables and mix until well combined. Allow to marinate for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 27, 2007; 1:43 PM ET Dinner Tonight , Seafood
Previous: Let's Go to the Fish Fry | Next: A Spring Risotto


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Hi Kim - thanks! I've been looking for ways to better prepare fish. Questions: what can I do with the oil after cooking? can I use it again? How do I strain and is anything gross going to grow in it before I use it again?

Also, what kind of thermometer do you use to measure temp of oil?

thank you! hope to try this next week!

Posted by: erine | April 27, 2007 5:42 PM

Hi there: I'm cloudy on this:
"Dip the fingers of one hand in water and moisten fillets, one at a time." What? Flick moisture onto the fillet with your wet fingertips? Dab moisture onto the fillet? Swipe the fillets through the bowl of water? Help!

Posted by: SwissMiss | April 27, 2007 11:17 PM

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