I enjoy seafood year-round- it’s one of my favorite things to eat- but I especially love it in the Summertime when lobster rolls, crab cakes and fish and chips are served fresh and can be savored beach-side while the weather is still nice and warm here in New England.
Since I’m getting getting ready to finish the last week of my mandatory two-week-post-travel-quarantine- ordering seafood for delivery is a little risky given the current scorching hot temperatures outside and because you never *quite* know when the food was prepared or how long it’s going to take to arrive before it starts to become a bit “off.”
I decided to save myself the trouble (and mild paranoia) and make my own freshly fried fish fillets- utilizing buttermilk and cayenne for maximum flavor. It seemed like a perfect recipe to share as we begin to wind down the Summer and prepare for September and the Fall- and my recipes start becoming more infused with pumpkin, cinnamon, apple, etc.
I’ve also included a quick recipe for tartar sauce since you can’t have fried fish without lemon wedges and tartar sauce within reach!
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1⅓ pounds fresh fish fillets (i.e. catfish, flounder, trout, etc.) cut into serving pieces
- 1 cup self-rising flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne
- 1 scant cup vegetable oil, peanut oil or lard, or more as needed
- 1 tablespoon bacon grease or butter
- Lemon wedges and tartar sauce, homemade (recipe to follow!) or store-bought, for serving
HOMEMADE TARTAR SAUCE:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup finely chopped dill pickles or sweet pickle relish
- 2 green onions (scallions), white and firm green parts, minced
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill Fresh lemon juice to taste (start with 2 teaspoons)
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Cayenne or Dijon mustard (optional)
WHAT YOU’LL DO:
1. PREPARE THE FISH: Pour some of the buttermilk into a shallow baking dish and add the fish fillets; add more buttermilk as needed to completely cover all the fillets. Let the fillets rest for half an hour.
2. Preheat the oven for 200°F to keep the first batch of fish hot. Warm a serving platter in the oven. Have ready a baking rack set on top of a baking sheet for draining the fish.
3. Put the seasoned flour on a plate or a small platter. One at a time, shake any extra buttermilk off each fillet and dip it into the flour on both sides, making sure it is covered, but not too thickly, then shake off any extra flour and lay the fillets on wax paper.
4. FRY THE FISH: Heat a heavy skillet (at least 10 inches wide) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the oil or lard to a depth of ¼ inch, then add the bacon grease or butter. When the fat is sizzling, drop in half the fish. Fry until crisp and golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes, or longer for thicker fillets, then turn the pieces—just once!—with a long, wide spatula and let crisp on the bottom. Drain on the rack and keep warm—still on the rack—in the oven until all the fish is cooked. Add more oil or lard to the pan if needed to fry the second batch, and make sure it’s hot before adding the fish.
5. MAKE THE TARTAR SAUCE: Stir the mayonnaise, pickles, scallions, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Let it sit for a bit to mellow and then taste it—you may want to add more lemon juice or some cayenne or Dijon mustard.
6. Serve the fried fish on a platter surrounded with lemon wedges, with tartar sauce on the side.
I cooked some steak fries to serve alongside these fillets to make them feel a little more authentic and like they were straight from the seaside shacks I often visited in New Hampshire for lunch and/or dinner during pre-pandemic Summers.
The fillets themselves are delicious- crispy, flaky and with a kick of unexpected spice that sets them apart from the fish and chips I’ve grown used to over the years. I’m a big fan- and although this could be considered one of those “Summertime Meals,” I have a feeling I’ll be making these when the weather gets cold again in order to warm myself up!