from Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland’s The Country Cat
photo by John Valls

The first key to success for a good fish fry is to invite friends and family who aren’t shy about having fun and eating a ton. Have the fish fry when the weather is nice so you can do your frying outside. If you haven’t spent the day fishing, go buy nice fresh, white fish like halibut, cod, catfish, rockfish or trout from a good fish market or grocery store. Serve the crispy fish with a buffet of fresh salads, slaw, and plenty of homemade tartar sauce for dipping. – Adam Sappington


Fried Fish

Serves 4

6 medium fresh white fish fillets (about 1 ½ lbs) halved and pin bones removed

1 ¼ cups low-fat buttermilk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup finely ground cornmeal

1 tablespoon ground celery seed

1 tablespoon ground fennel seed

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon lemon pepper

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 cups lard or vegetable oil, for frying

Homemade tartar sauce, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the fish with the buttermilk and, using your hands or a rubber spatula, move the fish around so the fillets are submerged. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the fish soak in the refrigerator for one hour.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, celery seed, fennel seed, garlic powder, lemon pepper, onion powder, salt, and black pepper, and whisk to combine. Working with one piece at a time, remove the fish from the buttermilk, allowing any excess buttermilk to drip back into the bowl. Place the fillet in the seasoned flour, shake the bowl to cover and press down firmly to coat. Shake the fillet to remove any excess flour and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining fillets.

Line a large baking sheet with paper towels. In a large cast-iron skillet set over medium heat, warm the lard until it reaches 325-degrees Fahrenheit on a deep-frying thermometer. Working in batches, fry the fillets, turning with a fish fork halfway through, until golden brown on the outside and snow white and cooked through in the center, about three minutes per side.

Transfer the fish to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining fillets, then transfer the fried fish to a platter and serve up with tartar sauce alongside

Homemade Tartar Sauce

Makes about 2 ½ cups

No fish fry is complete without a bowl of punchy tartar sauce. When you make your own from scratch, you can personalize it to suit your taste; I like to stir chopped capers and cornichons into mine and add Tabasco sauce for a little heat. Serve the sauce with fried fish.

2 cups mayonnaise

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and roughly chopped

3 cornichons, roughly chopped

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon, plus more juice for seasoning

10 dashes Tabasco sauce, plus more for seasoning

Kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, shallot, parsley, capers, cornichons, lemon zest, lemon juice, and Tabasco, and use a rubber spatula or large spoon to combine. Season with salt, additional lemon juice, and Tabasco.

Transfer the tartar sauce to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes before serving. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the tartar sauce will keep for up to three days.