Monday, December 18, 2006

Fried Fish

In her memories of her uncle, Barbara (Jeffries) Parmer told us "on heat-shimmery summer afternoons he'd take his fishing pole in hand and say 'Think I’ll go up the crick'. After awhile, he would return with what he called 'a mess of fish'—suckers and 'baccer boxes'—which my aunt or grandmother would fix for breakfast the next day."

Upper right is a mess of sunfish ( The pan fish which Heaterhuck Henline called "'baccer boxes," because they were as small a Prince Albert tobacco tin).

I doubt there was any question, in any kitchen in Orlando, about how fish would be prepared. Baked? Broiled? Maybe poached, then tossed in a salad, with a light vinaigrette? No. Not even smoked, although the homestead probably had a smokehouse. Fish was caught nearby, cleaned and pan fried. I've asked folks how their grandmothers fixed fish. They've explained as best they could, but in each case I've gotten the impression that it was as if I'd asked how you drink a glass of water. Still, if you weren't raised with iron skillets and grease cans on the stove, additional information may be in order.

First, for a sound primer for this discussion see Angela Gillaspie's Ode to Bacon Grease.

Now this, to the best of my knowledge, is the way fish was cooked in Orlando (and probably everywhere else in the region) when cornmeal was a staple and folks ate slab bacon most every day. If your family did it differently, please let us know.

Clean the fish. Remove the innards, head, scales and (maybe) skin so that each fish yields two fillets, strips of meat, one from each side of the fish.

Bread the fillets with cornmeal by dipping them first into milk or a beaten egg, then into cornmeal seasoned with salt and maybe pepper.

Heat the big iron skillet pretty hot and spoon a couple or three serving spoons of bacon drippings into the pan.1

Lay the breaded fillets in the hot skillet and fry until a crispy, brown crust forms. Then flip the fish and fry the other side. Add more bacon grease as needed.

See the entries for
Dec 10, '06 My Great-Uncle Heater Henline
Dec 12, '06: Fishing In Oil Creek

1. Bacon drippings was the standard cooking fat, like olive oil or butter might be in other cultures. After cooking the morning's bacon, or anything else with good flavored fat, like steak or pork chops, whatever fat was left in the pan was poured into a container kept on or near the stove for that purpose. The container could have been as simple as an old coffee can, but in the 1950s and '60s (I can't speak to what was used earlier) we used store-bought metal containers designed for the purpose. This "Fryer's Friend Grease Keeper " is the closest to a grease can I could find on the internet.

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