There’s nothing quite like a fish fry here in Alabama.
Friends, family, and neighbors gather for a community meal, all the while partaking in the genuine goodness that we harvest from our coastal waters. It’s the perfect way to feed the masses while also feeding them well.
And if you’re partaking in meatless Fridays for Lent this year, it’s the perfect time to clean out that fryer and get cookin’.
You don’t want to just casually walk into a fish fry, though—to do it properly, it takes some preparation and consideration. Thankfully, Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and also our Program Administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, is a fish fry expert.
We sat down with Blankenship to learn more about his fish fry technique. Check out what he had to say below, then start planning your own neighborhood fish fry. (Just make sure you’re using Alabama product!)
What kind of equipment do I need for a fish fry?
For a small group of 6 to 8, I just use something like a Fry Daddy. It’s easy, it keeps the oil at the perfect temperature, and it can fry enough to feed that small group.
For a larger fish fry, I have a propane fish fryer and a big deep pan with a basket. The pan holds a gallon or so of oil and heats up pretty quickly. It’s important to monitor the temperature of the oil to make sure it doesn’t get too hot.
What is the ideal number of guests for a fish fry?
A fish fry can be anywhere from 4 to 40 people. I think the ideal number is about 20. That way the fryer can usually keep up so everyone gets good, hot fish fresh out of the fryer.
How early should I start frying the fish before my guests arrive?
I like to start heating the oil about 20 minutes before the guests are set to arrive. I enjoy talking to people while the fish finish frying, and I like to give the people standing around the fryer a sample or two. You always seem to be waiting for a few stragglers, so you don’t want the fish ready too early or it might get soggy and cold before everyone arrives and you serve it with all the sides.
If I am frying for a big group, I will buy a cheap Styrofoam cooler and line the bottom with a bunch of paper towels. I’ll put the fish in there to keep them warm while I fry the next batches.
What should I coat the fish with to get the most flavor out of them?
The secret I learned from my old pastor on Dauphin Island is to coat the fish in yellow mustard before dredging in the fish fry. It holds the meal on very well and you can’t even taste the mustard when it’s fried. For the coating, I use Zatarain’s Crispy Southern Fish Fri. It’s perfectly spiced and seasoned right out of the box.
What kind of fish works best for a fish fry?
Any good quality white fish will work. My favorite is Red Snapper, but I will also use Sheepshead, Spotted or White Trout, or Redfish. I only fry fillets for big parties. I don’t want to take a chance on anyone getting a bone!
How long should I fry the fish? How many is too many to fry at one time?
I fry the fish until they float in the oil. Usually that takes 5-7 minutes. Don’t put too many in the oil where they might stick together. It is better to fry an extra batch than to get too many in at once. In the big pan, I will put enough in to take up all the space on the bottom of the pan where they are not on top of another piece.
Once the fish are ready, what should I serve them with?
I like baked beans and potato salad, or a hash brown casserole. A lot of people like to have fries, but I like to concentrate on the fish and not be distracted by trying to cook fries at the same time.
The best fish fry to me is when I provide and fry the fish and all the guests bring their favorite side. That gives it a good variety and makes for a fun party.
How important is it to buy local product for my fish fry?
The fresher the fish, the better the end product! Good fresh-caught fish or fish that has been vacuumed sealed and frozen usually makes for a good fish to fry. Also, I like to cut them up into smaller pieces. They fry up crispier and they go a little farther with a crowd.