July 24, 2014

Elyria
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Local fish fry cooks share their best tips

Golden brown, breaded beauties are religiously served up at Friday fish fries in church halls, restaurants and dining rooms around the county during Lent.

But what do you do if you have a taste for yellow perch, tilapia, grouper or salmon on one of the non meat-abstaining days of the week? Could you be lured into the recreational waters of cooking fish at home?

Just dive in, say area cooks who make it their business to bread, bake and broil for the masses every Friday.

As with any recipe, the best ingredients yield the best meal, so start with a fresh fillet of fish.

“What you need to do is to find one of the small fish markets around town, and there are numerous ones around. You will pay less, and I feel like you will get a better product than if you go to a large grocery store to try to buy fresh fish,” said Doug Navalinsky, who is in charge of procuring and breading the yellow perch each week for St. Vincent de Paul Church in Elyria. He and his team of seven “breaders” work for three hours every Thursday night to prepare the fish for the Friday night fundraising dinner. “We have commercial fisherman in Ohio and in Lorain that go out on Lake Erie, and they sell it directly to the mom-and-pop stores around the lake. If you deal with a local fish market, you are supporting the local economy, too.”

From there, choose your fish based on how you want to eat it. For instance, if you prefer fried fish, opt for a lean fish such as yellow perch, walleye or tilapia. If you want to broil, bake or grill your fish, salmon and trout are better choices.

“Because salmon and trout already have so much natural oil, if you fry them they would be extremely greasy,” Navalinsky said.

Once you’ve selected your fish, rinse it with cold water, pat it dry and start seasoning.

If you are breading, start with an egg wash, which is just a combination of egg and milk, said Jack Christmyer, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and head chef at American Legion Post 211 in Avon Lake, which offers an all-you-can-eat perch, a steak-and-shrimp surf-and-turf or perch and shrimp every Friday night —
52 weeks a year.

Cover the fish in the egg wash and then cover with your choice of breading, such as seasoned breadcrumbs, cornmeal or even crushed Saltine crackers.

“I would say the number one thing about perch is if you bread it too heavily, you are taking away from the fish,” Christmyer said. “You want to use very, very fine bread crumbs. Try to bread it just before it goes into the oil.”

If you don’t have a deep fryer, you can pan fry it in ½ inch of oil. Christmyer prefers canola oil because it is a light oil with zero trans fat and doesn’t impart any other flavor on the fish. Navalinsky is a fan of peanut oil, but said canola oil is good, too.

“Make sure your oil is hot before you put the fish in, otherwise the bread crumbs just soak up the oil, and it makes it very greasy,” said Christmyer, who suggests heating it to 350 degrees, using a thermometer to check temperature. Once in the oil, it takes mere minutes — 3 to 4 — until it’s golden brown.

Serve with french fries, coleslaw, a side of tartar sauce or a lemon wedge. If frying’s not your thing, try one of the three alternative recipes the chefs shared with us.

Grilled Salmon

Start with a skinless steak or fillet. Rub the salmon with mayonnaise and grill, skin side up first (this gives the fish nice grill markings). After about 3 minutes, turn the fish 90 degrees and continue to cook another minute. Turn it over and cook until done. Cooking time depends on the temperature of your grill and thickness of the fish. When it is done, splash it with fresh lemon juice and a little butter, if you prefer.

Source: Jack Christmyer, head chef of American Legion Post 211 in Avon Lake, which offers a Friday fish fry year-round.

Baked Tilapia

Start with thawed, freshly rinsed tilapia fillets.

Lightly oil a baking sheet, such as with olive oil.

Sprinkle with lemon juice.

Season with a seasoned salt, add parsley garnish for color.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes apart with a fork.

Source: Dennis Fink from St. Vincent de Paul Church in Elyria, which hosts a Friday fish fry and bake through
March 19.

Baked Grouper

Coat a cooking pan (with a lip to hold the juices in) with cooking spray. Lay the grouper, skin side down, on the pan. Splash the filet with dry white wine (Chardonnay or pinot grigio), then with fresh lemon juice. Rub on a small amount of mayonnaise, and then pour on melted butter. Season with garlic powder and white pepper, small amounts of each. Sprinkle on a very, very light coating of fine bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until thick end of the fillet flakes away with little pressure, about 10 minutes.

Source: Jack Christmyer, head chef of American Legion Post 211 in Avon Lake, which offers a Friday fish fry year-round.

Contact Chrissy Kadleck at (440) 329-7155 or ckadleck@chroniclet.com.