Fish Tales

From Thailand to Newfoundland, Frying fresh fish has a worldwide appeal

I think every coastal culture has a local version of fish with a golden, crunchy coating on the outside and tender, succulent fish under the protective blanket of crust. My most memorable experiences of fish fries are crispy shore lunches at our cabin by the big lake and also when I return to my Cajun roots, my pick is southern catfish nuggets in a crusty corn flour dredge that my brother fries for me after a tour of his agricultural estate. Cooked in his outdoor kitchen on a behemoth fryer on wheels, the ritual of our fish fry revolves around a family recipe that’s passed down that we continually improve with each generation.


Back in southern Louisiana where I grew up, sac -a- lait other known as white crappie that was designated as the official state fish in 1993. As a kid, fishing was one of my favorite pastimes during the hot humid days of summer. I thought nothing of day camping in knee-deep reeds and cattails to get closer to the pond that was down the road from my house. Never mind that the water moccasins and rabid mosquitoes shared the spot with me, I was there to catch fish. Occasionally, I would catch enough to bring home a “mess” of this succulent delight as well as catfish to cook. My daddy would clean them and mama fried them up as quickly as we cleaned them. Dipping them in spicy cocktail sauce that we concocted ourselves, it was thrilling to eat the success of my labor.

Later, when I started working in restaurants in New Orleans, I was indoctrinated to frying fish in a commercial fryer instead of a black Iron skillet.  The majority of casual restaurants were tagged “fry houses” and most of the day was spent prepping fried seafood and getting it ready for dinner service. Back in the day, the fish was always fresh and the cooking was done from scratch by hand breading and no shortcuts were used because the customer would know instantly if you strayed from tradition. It was in this restaurant setting where I was indoctrinated in the basics of fish cookery and was introduced to peanut oil, which is considered the best for frying by most southerners.

I’m passing on to you some tips and a couple of new fangled recipes that will liven up your next fish fry. I like cooking outside even during the abbreviated summers of northern Minnesota; it takes me back to my days as a kid, even if it’s only for a little while.


Arlene’s Fish Frying Tips-

-Make sure your oil is hot. 375F is the optimum frying temperature. Invest in a good instant-read high temperature thermometer to check your oil in between batches.

-Try new breading combinations- Almond meal, Japanese (Panko) breadcrumbs and chickpea flour produces a distinctive flavor.

-You can bread fish and freeze flat on a cookie sheet, then portion into plastic bags when you need a quick dinner.

-Sweet chili sauce purchased in the Asian section of your grocery makes a great stand in for a dipping sauce.

Fried Catfish

 For the printable, click here

Des Allemands Catfish

Adapted from “Cajun Cooking Making it Easy” by Arlene Coco, Wordware press 1977

Here is a twist on the local versions found in our area. The mustard acts as a tenderizer and gives the dish a subtle tangy flavor.

Freshly fried catfish is the stuff that Cajun children dream about. Most abundant in Mississippi, catfish farms produce the most luscious and mouth-watering catfish available. Don’t be afraid of the amount of Tabasco sauce, it is hardly traceable once the fish is fried.

Serves 4-6


1 cup yellow mustard

3 Tablespoons Tabasco sauce

2 lbs catfish fillets

1 cup corn flour, seasoned with 1 Tablespoon Cajun seasoning

1 cup 2% milk

1 cup cornmeal

4 cups peanut oil (to fry in)

1 yellow onion, sliced into large rings

2 lemons, sliced

1 cup Sweet and Spicy New Age Tartar Sauce (see recipe below)


1.    Mix mustard and Tabasco sauce in large bowl. Add Catfish fillets, marinate for 2 hours

2.    Season corn flour with Cajun spices. Dip fillets in milk and then in the corn flour, back in milk and then in corn meal.

3.    Float onions in 375F hot oil for a couple of minutes to flavor the oil.

4.    Deep Fry fish fillets, be careful not to overcrowd in oil until golden brown.

5.    Serve with lemon slices and tartar or cocktail sauce.


Sweet and Spicy New Age Tartar Sauce

Yields 1 ½ cups

½ cup low fat mayonnaise

½ cup low fat sour cream

2 Tablespoons Sweet Pickle relish

2 Tablespoons green onions, sliced thin

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

Sriracha hot chili sauce to taste

Mix all ingredients in bowl and serve with fish.

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2 Responses to Fish Tales

  1. Debbie Tusher says:

    Hi Arlene,

    I am an aspiring baker/pastry chef and I am thinking of attending culinary school but I have been hesitant because of the cost. Do you have any advice on how to get funding (because I already graduated from college I am no longer eligible for financial aid)? Also, do know of any places around Duluth that would accept interns? I would really love to get a behind the scenes look at the life of a professional baker/pastry chef so even having the opportunity to observe people like yourself in the kitchen would be wonderful. Any advice on the best way to become a baker/chef and any other wisdom you have from your experiences would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!


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