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Fish fry findings in Fargo-Moorhead

All About Food | March 7th, 2024

By Rick Gion

rickgion@gmail.com

The Lenten Friday fish fry is becoming more popular in this area of the prairie and for good reason. Beer-battered, panko-coated, pecan-crusted, or tempura-dipped – it’s all delicious.

With its wide net of popularity in Wisconsin, the love of Friday fish fry is definitely swimming west. Yes, the land of cheese also exports its love for fried fish. After all, Minnesota and North Dakota don’t lack in the fresh fish department, especially regarding the revered walleye. As many know, walleye are very prevalent in Devils Lake, the Missouri River and much of Minnesota. But crappies, perch and sunnies will also do.

This Lenten season, I’ve seen an increase in advertising for Friday fish fry offerings at Fargo-Moorhead area restaurants. It’s an exciting trend for me, because I’m a huge fan of fried fish. I could turn full-blown pescatarian this time of year.

And here’s why: I got started on the Friday fish fry at an early age. In junior high and high school, I spent a lot of time in Wausau, Wisconsin. The Friday fish fry at restaurants was very popular there. Along with some of that fish, I may have had a few beers underage. In Wisconsin, it was legal at the time if accompanied by a guardian. I learned early that fried fish goes well with some cold suds.

The prairie region and the land of cheese have a lot of things in common culturally. After all, we’re Midwesterners.

According to an article called “A brief history of the Wisconsin fish fry” from the Travel Wisconsin website, “Wisconsin’s fish fry tradition is attributed to three things: The Catholic Church, Prohibition and our state’s proximity to freshwater fish.” It goes on to say, “most of Wisconsin’s settlers were Catholics of Polish and German descent, and Catholic leaders called for their parishioners to abstain from eating warm-blooded meat on Fridays as a way to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday.” And “many European Catholics took this practice with them when they settled in America.”

The fishing and religious portions of that background are quite familiar. However, I found the prohibition part very interesting. Selling fried fish actually helped to keep local pubs above water while booze was illegal in Wisconsin. There’s your saucy history lesson for the day.

Back in F-M, there have been more fish fry offerings than years past. Facebook is my source for that nugget. The fish fry ads and posts have been prevalent. I’ve recently had fried fish at a handful of places including Beer & Fish CompanyBlarney Stone at the Hotel Donaldson, a couple of Catholic churches, and the Fargo VFW Post Post 762.

I’ve also seen a full fish fry being advertised at Culver’sThe Fish and Chicken ShackFrank’s LoungeLucky’s 13The Toasted Frog, and Unicorn Park Fine Foodery. For the risk of gaining too much weight, I didn’t eat fried fish at all those restaurants. But, if you know of more offerings around the area, please send me an email. I’m keeping a list for future reference.

Now that we’ve discussed secular fish fry locations, let’s now take a look at the sacred. I will be honest about this: I’ve not been impressed with recent Friday fish fry offerings at local Catholic churches. As a Catholic, this has been disappointing. But, for the sake of not being ex-communicated, I won’t disclose specific parish locations. I do know there are good church fish fry offerings around here though. Again, please email me if you have worthwhile suggestions.

To my friends at the Diocese of Crookston and the Diocese of Fargo, please make sure to post more fish fry events on your social media channels and websites. The Bismarck Diocese posts notes on their website about these delicious dinners. I just saw one regarding fish fry events at parishes in Mandan. Church dinners are culinarily and culturally significant here. Event notices are appreciated for us fish fry fans angling for good fare. We will travel for your culinary offerings.

Let’s now explore what makes for a good fish fry. Let’s begin by discussing the fish, which needs to be of good quality. White fish like catfish, cod, crappie, perch, pollock, sunfish, and walleye make for good ingredients. I would avoid fatty fish like salmon or tuna.

The chosen fish must then be coated in batter or crumbs. Make sure to have a pro-level process for this, or your fish may not have any crunch.

Also, be sure that your frying oil is at the right temperature. Too low, and your fish will be soggy. Too high, and your coating will scorch and the fish will turn to leather.

If baking the fish for a healthier alternative, the same temperature rules apply. And please do not cook your fish for too long. This is one of the most frequent mistakes. I’ve seen a lot of recipes that call for frying or roasting fish for way, way too long.

For sides, a crunchy cabbage coleslaw is a must. Please don’t put too much mayo in it though. Slimy slaw is not satisfactory.

Now onto the potatoes. I really enjoy a baked potato with butter and sour cream with a fish fry. Others like roasted reds and some like fries. If you’re making fries, please do fresh-cut. Frozen won’t do. Use a double-blanching method, and your fries will be phenomenal.

Finally, I do also enjoy an iceberg lettuce salad with runny ranch with this meal. It’s classic for that hot and cold contrast. And, yes, this is in addition to some coleslaw. I like to have both.

This has been a schooling in a classic fish fry. And as you can see, it’s becoming more popular around here. Be sure to try a few of these options during this Lenten season.

Rick Gion administers a Facebook food group called “Fargo-Moorhead Eats” that’s dedicated to the area’s great cooks and cuisine. The page now has over 34,000 followers. Check it out, join, and feel free to post items about your local culinary adventures and home cooking. And, while you’re at it, also join the Instagram and TikTok pages. Rick is also a featured guest on Prairie Public Radio’s “Main Street.” His weekly segment about food called “Prairie Plates” airs at 3 p.m. every Wednesday.

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