August 25, 2010
I’ll never forget the first time I cooked fish. I was a student at the University of Florida when another student (a male friend) called to say he and his buddies had caught enough fish to feed everyone in his quad but none of them knew how to cook them. He wanted to know if I would come over and help. Always alert to the opportunity to impress male friends, I assured him that I could — despite my having never fried fish before. Then I called home for instructions.
Mom rarely cooked fish because my father was not an angler. She hated the smell that hung over the kitchen afterwards, but I knew she could tell me how and she did. She told me how to beat an egg, dip the fillets in it and then coat them with flour or cornmeal. My friend’s mother used cornmeal, so that’s what he had on hand and what I used. The fish — it was grouper — was delicious! I even made hush puppies from the recipe on the back of the bag. My reputation as a cook was enhanced.
I’ve often laughed about that that experience over the years. Now I cook fish often. While I don’t always fry it, I love it best that way. My mother didn’t enjoy fish fixed any other way, so over the years I experimented with frying types of fish. I tried salmon and tilapia and fish I had never fried before. But flounder or rockfish (sea bass) are hands down favorites. I associate them with summer excursions to my aunt and uncle’s home near the Sinepuxent Bay. Uncle Louis would prepare fish he had caught and serve them with sliced tomatoes from his garden and a side dish of “hot lettuce”. The meals reflected his Hungarian origin. After we lost my aunt, my mother baked the cornbread. We continued this tradition long after my father had died. We would spend the evening enjoying his culinary presentation and talking over old times. It’s true that tastes and smells are powerful memories. I never sit down to a meal of fried flounder without remembering these loved ones who are no longer with me.
When I fry flounder, I most often use seasoned flour to coat it. I always salt both sides of the fish with sea salt and set it aside while I prepare seasoned flour. In a cake pan or large plate, blend together flour salt, pepper and any herb that you like with fish. Dip the fish fillets in beaten egg and then in the flour. Set the coated fillets aside for a few moments to let the coating form a crust before dropping them into medium hot oil. I use canola oil to fry most things, because it will tolerate high heat and it’s healthy. Wait until the coating on the bottom has had a chance to set and brown before turning it over. You will have better results. Most people like dill with fish. I prefer basil, but I have also used a Louisiana seasoning blend called BAM. This reduces the salt and pepper with great results. I frequently squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice over the fish just before removing it from the pan.
I never use a recipe but start with this: four fillets (If frozen, thaw and press out excess moisture or the fish will steam and you will be disappointed with the results.), sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside. Combine one cup of flour with a half teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste in a shallow pan. You can also add a teaspoon of a dried herb. Beat one large egg or two small ones with a dash of water in a shallow pan. Fry in about an inch of oil. Enjoy!