Southern Fish Fry Is Part Native American, Part African American

Southern Fish Fry Is Part Native American, Part African American

This southern fish fry menu includes a rich sauce and a salad.  Fish fry is traditional in the southern US, although the actual frying technique, well, not so recent. The fish fry is born of the African American enslaved communities who spent Saturdays, once the plantation work ebbed, to fish and then to create the communal event that functioned naturally as a bonding celebration. Cooking fish in community is also a Native American tradition.

“Between A.D. 900 and 1500 most Native Americans living in Texas had developed the distinct culture that Europeans and Americans encountered and would write about.” Their cuisine included various preparations of the fish they caught in the San Antonio, Guadalupe, Pecos, Rio Grande/Bravo and other rivers.  At that time the Rio Grande was not a border but, along with other rivers, an oasis of food and irrigation. The Rio Grande, also called Rio Bravo, begins in Colorado and wends all the way down to Matamoros and the gulf. Along the way it meets the Rio Conchos and the Pecos.RioGrandeRiver.gif

More to the East, along the coast,(Beaumont, Galveston, Houston, Victoria, Corpus Christi) our Texas Indian ancestors dined on fish that included black drum, redfish, speckled sea trout, croaker, sea catfish, flounder, sheepshead, silver perch and mullet.”(1). Smoking, grilling, steaming, drying, salting are all traditional techniques for preparing fish which of course was regularly served with corn. This fried fish method is straightforward and reflects the penchant for coupling the flavors of fish with corn, that elemental grain that was everywhere, even in our creation myths, all the way down to what is today Southern Mexico.  But frying is a recent phenomenon.

Deep frying foods does not get a high score with healthy cooking methods, since today most of us don’t have a rural active lifestyle, but I think it’s ok once in a while. Frying is not a Native American, Texas Mexican culinary tradition.  It’s a culinary technique brought here to the Americas by Europeans who since 600 BC have been frying stuff.  According to one scholar, baking versus cooking with oil “in the pan” is mentioned in the bible, Leviticus 2:7.

Diego Velazquez, in 1618 paints “Vieja Friendo Huevos” (Old Woman Frying Eggs), with marvelous realism, so it’s evident that frying was an everyday technique.

Old Woman Frying Eggs by Velazquez
“Vieja Friendo Huevos” (Old Woman Frying Eggs) by Velazquez

So, we’ve adopted frying into our culinary repertoire, and what I love about it is that a fish fry is about community and celebration.  The southern US “Fish Fry” is a cultural tradition that goes back hundreds of years and originated as an African American weekend event on plantations.  Also, I love the crunch in this recipe.

Southern Fish Fry Method

–Cut 6″ filets of very fresh catfish or grouper (remember that there should be no “fishy,” or other malodor at all.  If it smells bad, it’s bad.)

–dry the filets and season with salt and pepper
–dredge in wheat flour and shake off excess
–dip in a bowl of well beaten eggs, to which you’ve added just a little water. (1 teaspoon per egg) THEN immediately
–place in a bowl of corn meal.  Make sure the corn meal covers all the surfaces of the filet.  You can hold the filets in the cornmeal until you are ready to fry them.
–in a deep-fryer or deep saucepan pour enough peanut oil so that the filets (2 or 3 at a time depending on the size of the pan) can be submerged.
–When the oil is at 350ºF, place the filets in the oil and fry until the fish is a deep golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon (or basket) and place in rack for  holding until served. I suggest you serve it with a green vegetable, maybe snap peas, and slices of lemon.

Fish Fry Menu
Fish Fry Menu

Mayonnaise Sauce for Fish Fry

(I love this remoulade sauce. The French arrived in Texas in the 1600’s)
Combine the following ingredients in a bowl and let the flavors blend for an hour (makes 1 cup)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 oz finely chopped capers
1 Tbs finely chopped chives
1 Tbs finely chopped tarragon
1/2 Tbs Dijon Mustard
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Tabasco sauce
salt to taste.

Iceberg Salad with Radish and Onion Mix

(serves four)
Vinaigrette:  In a bowl whisk together until an emulsion forms
3 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
1 fl oz red wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp finely minced oregano
1 teaspoon finely minced sage
1 teaspoon finely minced thyme
1/8 tsp salt
Radish and Onion Mix:
4 radishes, cut into quarters or sixths if large
1 green onion, thinly sliced crosswise
1/8 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbs flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Place the melange in a bowl and add the vinaigrette.  Chill for 30 to 60 minutes.
Slice half a head of iceberg lettuce into 1/4″strips.  Arrange in circular fashion in plates.  Spoon the marinated radish mix on top and serve with the fish and sauce.

This southern Fish Fry Menu is great for Sunday dinner!

1.  David La Vere, The Texas Indians, Texas A & M University Press, College Station, 2004.

2. I. D. Morton, Geography and history of the frying process

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2 thoughts on “Southern Fish Fry Is Part Native American, Part African American”

  • Informative article. One correction from a native Southerner: a fish fry is an EVENT. Fried fish is the MAIN COURSE. Thus, Fried Fish is served at a traditional African American FISH FRY. 😉

  • Thank you for recipe on fish fry.This reminds me of my older sister who is now deceased.When we would visit her in Houston TX. she would always have a fish fry for us.She was such a good cook I miss her. and her fish Fry’s.Good times good memories.

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