Guilty Pleasure: How to Fry Great Seafood at Home!
The guide to eating in or dining out in the Old North State. The establishments listed here have water access on site or very nearby. Or we really, really like what they're sellin'!
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Ahhh, fried seafood. There’s nothing like it. When we’re near the ocean (Or on the lake. Depending on how strictly you define “seafood,” that catfish fillet might well qualify.), most of us will happily cast aside our usual low-fat regimen for the guilty pleasure of an occasional dinner ... or breakfast or lunch ... of fried seafood.
Of course, many of us want to catch whatever’s for supper, but when time won’t allow that fishing trip with our good friend Capt. Gus, you’ll want to stop by the market for the catch of the day. And by “the market,” I mean a real, live, gosh-dang, actual seafood market. You know, a place where they really know what they’re selling. And from whence it came. Credible markets are springing up in metro areas like Charlotte and Raleigh, where you can purchase good quality seafood. If you are stuck inland, though, a little freshly-caught crappie or perch will work as well and may, in actual fact, be better.
A good market can recommend their favorite preparation techniques, but I’m sure you have that old family recipe tucked away somewhere. As any good cook knows, you’ll get the best results if you start with high-quality ingredients.
First, be sure to buy the freshest seafood you can find. Buy from a reputable merchant and check the seafood for color (bright and clear), smell (not strong or unpleasant) and touch (firm, not slimy). Don’t skimp on this. Put your nose right down to the fish and be sure it’s fresh. Don’t buy from roadside trucks (Like, ever.), and avoid fish that’s been marinated with lemon-pepper or some other goop to cover it up.
If you buy good seafood, you want to taste it, so don’t get too fancy with the cooking. I like a light batter so the flavor of the fish comes through. For deep-frying, coat the seafood with milk and roll in a combination of flour and corn meal. Fry at 375 degrees in lard – yes, lard – for the best flavor, and watch closely. Always use clean, not recycled, grease. And shrimp, for instance, is done when the head and tail of the individual shrimp are almost touching. Flounder fillets will crisp up and start to turn inward. You want it just done enough that the batter stays on. If it’s floating, it’s done.
For a good alternative to deep-frying salt and pepper fish fillets, roll them in cornmeal alone and sear quickly on both sides in a skillet with butter at high temperature to brown. Then finish cooking them in the oven.
On the Piedmont lakes, there are ample opportunities to catch your own, but we’re also close enough to the Carolina coast to enjoy that fresh catch as well.
When all that fishing and cleaning and cooking ... fried or otherwise ... seems like too much work, or if you’re the least bit uncertain of your ability, Big Daddy’s in Mooresville is your answer. And they’ll be happy to see you!
Some Simple Recipes
If you go to the trouble of cooking fresh seafood, go all the way and make your own sauce.
Simple Cocktail Sauce
Mix ketchup, horseradish and lemon to taste and add:
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
A squeeze of lime
And Equally Simple (Really!) Tarter Sauce
Mix these ingredients to taste:
Not low-fat. We're talking fried seafood,
after all. Go for broke. Use Duke's.
Chopped sweet and dill pickles
Chopped hard-boiled egg
Pinch of sugar, Dash of vinegar
Salt & pepper
Whisk and let sit awhile before serving.
Try one or all of these waterfront or water-access restaurants next time you're, you know, hungry ...