For some of you, Friday nights are all about gathering up with friends and family around the smell of golden fried fish, lemon, and tartar sauce. Popular in the Midwest, North, and Southeast, the fish fry comes from an end-of-week tradition of Roman Catholics in the US.
No wonder the fish fry came to be in the Midwest. It’s a region of North America that’s full of great lakes. Fishermen quickly learned that bluegill, perch, and walleye made for a fantastic meal to feed their families and share with their neighbours.
The fish fry quickly spread across the country and turned into a national tradition for Americans who live near water and like to share their freshest catch at dinner parties in their backyards. If you’re one of them, this blog post is for you.
I’m going to share my best ideas for what to serve at a summer fish fry party. Continue reading if I’ve got you curious.
Wondering what to serve at Friday’s fish fry? Check out this simple and classic menu your guests will fall in love with—and that you can easily cook up an hour or two before the time of the event.
Beer-Battered Fish Fillets with Tartar Sauce
You can’t host a fish fry and not serve fried fish with tartar sauce. Any type of white and flaky fish (the kind that flakes on your fork) will do for this crunchy and delicious recipe.
Beer-Battered Fish Fillets Recipe
Step 1. Pour 3 inches of oil in a large Dutch oven. You’ll want to use a cooking oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable and canola oil. Canola oil is a great choice because it has a neutral flavor and doesn’t cost you much. Heat to 360°F or 180°C.
Step 2. I’m going to assume you’ve already gone through the step to clean and fillet your fish. If that’s the case, take the fish fillets, dry them using a paper towel, and season them on both sides with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper.
Step 3. Time to make the batter. In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, sea salt, black pepper, eggs, and light beer (like Bud Light, Coors Light, or Corona). The salt and pepper will add taste and aroma, the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the beer will make it crunchy and airy, and the eggs will thicken the batter.
Step 4. Dip the fish fillets in the batter and let the excess batter drip off. Using tongs, gently lower each fillet in the Dutch oven. Don’t overcrowd it as putting too many fillets at a time will lower the temperature of the cooking oil.
Step 5. Fry each fish fillet for 2-3 minutes on each side. When their color gets golden-brown, take them out of the Dutch oven and place them on a large sieve or wire rack. You can also pat them dry with a paper towel to soak up some of the cooking oil.
Serve the beer-batter fish fillets while still warm. Complement with tartar sauce and french fries.
Tartar Sauce Recipe
I don’t know about you, but tartar sauce is my favorite sauce for fried fish fillets! It’s also really easy to make.
Here’s my tartar sauce recipe that’s better than anything you can buy in the store:
You’re going to need mayonnaise (I’d go for Heinz Seriously Good Mayonnaise or Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise), gherkins (or any other type of pickle), capers, and lemon.
Mix the mayo, diced gherkins and capers in a bowl. Squeeze some lemon juice into your mix. Stir it energetically for a minute or two to incorporate all the ingredients into a uniform and consistent sauce. Your tartar sauce is now ready.
To make the best tartar sauce for a fish fry in the summer, cool in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.
Crispy French Fries
Making the perfect french fries to complement your fish fillets is an art and science. Crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, french fries are a great side to serve with fish.
Buy the right potatoes for french fries. The best variety for french fries is Russet Burbank. But I’ve made just as good french fries with Maris Piper or Yukon Gold potatoes. As a rule of thumb, the starchier the potato, the fluffier the french fries on the inside. The reason why Russet Burbank works best is because it contains the most starch of the three varieties.
Cut the potatoes into ¼ or ½ inch slices. Long potatoes make the best french fries. With a chef’s knife, slice each potato in two. Lay each half cut-side down on the cutting board. Slice lengthwise into ¼ or ½ thick slices. Then cut lengthwise into ¼ or ½ thick french fries.
Soak the potatoes in salty water. Dissolve about 100 grams of sea salt per 1 liter of water. Add the french fries and let them float for 1 to 2 hours. Then take them out and pat them dry with a paper towel.
Cook the fries twice. This is the best trick I’ve found for making french fries. You get french fries that are perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
First, fry the potatoes at 350°F or 175°C. The goal is to let the potatoes cook through to the middle, but not take on any color. When a toothpick picks through the french fries with ease, they’re ready to take out. Let them drain and cool on a wire rack or sieve for 15-30 minutes.
Bring the temperature of the oil to 400°F or 205°C. Fry the potatoes a second time until you get golden brown color. When they’re done, remove from the oil, soak up some of the oil with a paper towel, and season to your taste with salt.
Make sure you’re not putting too many fries at the same time in your skillet. The temperature of the cooking oil will drop and your fries won’t end up as good as you want them. Be patient and add your fries to the pan in small portions.
Here’s my recipe for creamy coleslaw that your fish fry guests are going to fall in love with… and that’s also quick and easy for you to make ahead of the party.
For the salad, you’re going to need red cabbage, green cabbage, and carrots. For the dressing, mayo, apple cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, and sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Step 1. Cut the cabbage in four chunks. Cut out the root since it’s too tough to add raw to a slaw. Now slice the cabbage into long and thin shreds that you’ll put in your slaw.
The trick to making great coleslaw, really, is to cut the cabbage as thin as you can. Thin- and evenly-cut cabbage works really well with coleslaw because it soaks up all the flavors from the dressing.
Step 2. Peel the carrots, cut out the ends, and cut them into long and thin pieces about the size of the cabbage shreds. If the pieces end up too long, you can cut them in half lengthwise.
Step 3. In a large bowl, mix the sliced cabbage and carrots well. You want your slaw to have a diversity of taste, texture, and color, no matter where you guests bite in.
Spin the slaw in a salad spinner to remove any excess water or liquids from the sliced cabbage and carrots. The drier they are, the better they’ll soak up the taste of the dressing.
Step 4. Make the coleslaw dressing. Whisk 6 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a little bit of honey, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper.
Taste frequently as you do it to make sure you get the right balance. When you spoon the dressing, it should be uniform and a little runny, but not inconsistent and watery.
If the dressing is too runny, add 2-3 tablespoons of mayo and whisk again until you get the right consistency.
Step 5. Toss the dressing with the slaw. Refrigerate the salad for 30 minutes to an hour before serving it to your fish fry guests.
Here’s one British side dish for fish and chips to add to your American fish fry menu.
Mushy peas are peas cooked with butter, then mashed and seasoned with lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper. They are the perfect side dish for fish fillets and a really light appetizer to eat at a party in the summer.
Traditionally, mushy peas are made with dried marrowfat peas. But this is a home cooking blog, not a traditional British cooking blog, so we’re not going to go there. I’ve made this recipe time and time again with Bonduelle frozen peas and it ends up perfect.
Step 1. Cook the peas with butter and some extra virgin olive oil in a skillet for 15 minutes, over medium high heat.
Step 2. Take them away from the heat and place them in a large bowl. Mash the peas with a fork or a potato masher until about half of them are mushy and the other half are whole.
Step 3. Season to taste with sea salt, freshly-ground black or white pepper (whichever taste you like more), and a little more extra virgin olive oil.
You’re ready to serve. I like to serve my mushy peas alongside grilled baguette or crackers, so that my guests have something to spread them on.
Cold Lager or Ale Beer
When hosting a summer dinner, one of my favorite things is pairing drinks with the food that I’m about to serve. So let’s spend some time looking at how to pair beer with fish fillets.
What’s the best beer to pair with fried fish? To pair beer with food, you should match the body of a beer to the body of a dish. Fried fish fillet pairs well with a light lager, as well as with a medium-bodied beer like pale ale or red ale.
My favorite light lagers are Corona, Coors Light, and Miller Lite. When it comes to pale and red ale, I tend to try different craft beers from the neighbourhood grocery store.
How can I chill beer in the freezer fast? Wrap each beer bottle or can with a wet paper towel before putting it inside the freezer. The towel should be soaked in water, but not dripping wet. Once inside, it will help cool the beers faster than air alone.
Chilled White Wine
If you have wine lovers at your fish fry, here’s my quick guide on pairing wine with fish.
How to pair wine with fish? The best wine blog in the world, Wine Folly, says to “look for zesty and refreshing whites to balance the delicate fish flavor.” This includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Greek white wines.
Any aromatic white wine will do great. Chill the wine 1-2 hours in the fridge before serving. This way, the liquid will cool down to about 50°F or 10°C, which is pretty much a good temperature for serving most white wines.
How can I chill wine fast? You don’t always have time to chill wine before a party. The best way to chill wine quickly is in brined ice water. Find a container and add water, ice, and salt (any salt will do) to it. Your rose or white wine will cool in 15-20 minutes using this technique.
Cocktails That Go With Fish
Through much experimentation and help from my friends, I’ve seen that three classic cocktails go exceptionally well with fish fillet: Bloody Mary, Gin & Tonic, Margarita.
Bloody Mary: Mix 4 cups of tomato juice with 1 cup vodka, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon Tabasco hot sauce, 1 teaspoon of freshly-ground black pepper, and salt to taste. If you’re like me and always have a can of tomatoes around, make your own tomato juice by putting it in the blender. Serve in a tall glass with a celery stick and ice cubes.
Gin & Tonic: Mix 2 ounces of gin with 4-5 ounces of tonic water. Serve with a slice of lemon or lime and ice cubes.
Margarita: Mix 1 ½ ounces of silver tequila with 1 ounce of orange liqueur. Add ¾ once freshly-squeezed lime juice. Serve with ground ice, lime wedge, and coarse salt for rimming the glass.