A Wisconsin Tradition

I grew up in Wisconsin and, apart from a brief stint on the East Coast for college, have lived in various parts of the state my entire life. I love it. I love the way we have four distinct seasons with a lot of variety in our days. I love the way you don't need to drive hours (or even more than a few minutes) to find natural beauty to enjoy. I love how people smile and say hello when you walk down the street. And I love our foodie traditions.

Perhaps one of our most beloved food-centered traditions is the Friday Fish Fry. Whether it means gathering at the favorite local watering hole or seating yourself in the basement of a neighborhood church, fish fries are a rite of passage that grants you entry to your weekend in Wisconsin. But can you partake of this local tradition at home? I do and it's really quite simple to manage. What's more, it's so delicious!

Now, at the end of my week, the last thing I want to be faced with is super fussy meal prep. But my fish fry approach is anything but and leaves me with tender, flaky fish that has a delicious, crunchy crust on it. The key to my simple approach is foregoing an egg wash for a quick brushing of full-fat mayonnaise and favoring a seasoned crumb coating instead of a gloppy batter. Then I pan fry the fish (usually in bacon fat because, hey, bacon fat) and set it on my plate with a dollop of homemade tartar sauce, some crunchy coleslaw, and some warm slices of pumpernickel bread. You could opt for other side dishes, but those are the ones that speak my childhood memories of crowding around tables in the basement of my church and enjoying a fish fry with my family.

Before we get to the recipe, I wanted to say a few things about fish and crumbs. While cod is a very traditional choice, it has been over-fished in recent years and I've chosen to make a more sustainable choice by opting for tilapia fillets. A choice that was originally made for that reason has me sticking with it because, frankly, I think it makes a much better pan-fried fish fry choice. I love the flavor, texture, and even the shape! Beyond that, it's nearly always less expensive than cod fillets and who out there is going to complain about saving money? As for the crumb mixture, the option presented in this recipe consists of crushed pretzels and seafood seasoning. But here's a secret: you can tweak what you use to coat the fish. A blend of cornmeal and your favorite seasoning would be great. Try finely crushing corn or rice Chex cereal for a fun option. Even crushed crackers will do the trick. But please do me a favor: if you find a combination you really love, please share it with us!

So have a fantastic weekend and do yourself a favor and start it right with your very own fish fry. You can thank me later!

Fast Fish Fry

  • 1 lb. firm fish fillets - cod is traditional, but I adore tilapia
  • 2 oz. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. finely crushed pretzel crumbs
  • 1 T. seafood seasoning - I used Penzeys Chesapeake Bay seasoning
  • 2 T. canola oil or bacon fat

Using a brush, coat the fish fillets liberally with the mayonnaise on all sides and set aside.

In a shallow resealable plastic container, combine the crushed pretzels and the seafood seasoning. One at a time, add a fish fillet to the container, seal it, shake to thoroughly coat the fish, and remove the fillet to a clean plate. Repeat until all of the fish is coated in seasoned pretzel crumbs.

Heat the oil or bacon fat in a skillet over medium-high heat and arrange the fish fillets in a single layer. Fry for 4 minutes on one side and then carefully flip the fillets and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the pretzel crust is golden brown. Remove to a serving plate and keep warm. Repeat this process until all of the fish is fried. Serve hot with tartar sauce, coleslaw, and warm rye or pumpernickel bread.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

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