Fish Fry Friday Nights

The Friday night Fish Fry is a tradition throughout the Great Lakes region, varying slightly with ethnic touches city by city, and even neighborhood by neighborhood. In the Milwaukee area, our favorite old school fish fry can be enjoyed at Jack Pandl’s Whitefish Bay Inn, a place that is worth visiting for the history alone. Order the perch and enjoy the potato pancakes with applesauce. Another Milwaukee favorite is the Fish Fry they serve at the Lakefront Brewery Beer Hall, which includes a traditional dinner, a live polka band, and family style seating (not to mention Lakefront’s fantastic beer offerings!). There are many great options throughout Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and nearly every Great Lakes city.

The Christian tradition of not eating meat on Friday’s in lent lead to a regional obsession with delicately crispy white fish and french fried potatoes on any Friday of the year, though unfortunately cod is substituted far too often for freshwater fish. When the batter is made with a light, highly carbonated beer, the oil is clean and hot, and local, freshwater fish fillets are used, it is the perfect way to start the week-end. The right amount of carbonation in the beer creates a batter resembling a Japanese tempura. Find a place with a house-made tartar sauce or, even better, a house-made malt vinegar to really accent the fish. We’ll share a house-made chive mayonnaise in this post that could work as well.

Despite our love for the occasional Friday night Fish Fry, fried food in general is not our preference and so we’ve adapted a number of very traditional Great Lakes fish into our version. After all, that is what Great Lakes Cuisine is all about – innovatively finding ways to adapt traditional, ethnic dishes.

The key to this dish is the Smoked Chubs from Ewig’s in Port Washington but an alternative is the smoked whitefish which they will ship. The chubs are native to the Great Lakes and are actually known as a bloater or coregonus hoyi (though there is much confusion between freshwater and ocean varieties). The small, silver skinned fish is oily like sardine, but far less “fishiness” in aroma or flavor. They look a bit liked smoked sardine but are technically in the salmon family. Port Washington was once home to a thriving commercial fishing operation, but now Ewig’s is the lone testament to the once teeming whitefish catch. In honor of the town’s history, we offer this dish.

Port Washington Fish Fry2

We harvested the smoked flesh to top the very delicately flavored freshwater whitefish and served it with sauteed greens and small hash browned potatoes, prepared similar to rosti.

Port Washington Stuffed Whitefish with Baby Rosti (Hash browned potatoes)

1 lb. freshwater whitefish filet
4 smoked chubs
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs. finely diced onion
1 Tbs. finely diced chives
1 Tbs. stone ground mustard
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt

1/2 cup sour cream

3 large Yukon gold potatoes
1 Tbs. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbs. melted butter
1 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 cup baby kale
2 cup baby spinach
or preferred greens
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs. vegetable oil

Place the egg yolks, onion, chives, and mustard in blender and process until smooth. With the blender running, add oil in a slow drizzle. The result will be 1 cup of chive mayonnaise that will intensify as it sits. Remove the flesh from the smoked chubs, being careful to remove skin and bones.

Port Washington Fish Fry1

Fold 1/2 cup of chive mixture into the smoked fish flesh and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Combine remaining 1/2 cup of chive mixture with sour cream and refrigerate.

Shred the potatoes on the largest holes of the grater, then mix with salt and pepper and allow to stand 30 minutes. Heat oven to 375. Working in handfuls, squeeze as much water out of the potatoes as you can, as this will lead to crispier potatoes. Combine butter and oil and brush sheet pan with half the mixture. Working in small handfuls, form the potatoes into 2 inch disks, about 1/2 inch thick, and place on the sheet pan then top with remaining oil mixture. Bake until browned on the underside (about 30 minutes), turn and finish until browned. Finish fish and greens while potatoes bake.

Remove smoked chub mix from refrigerator. Slice fish into 2 inch pieces. Lightly salt and then drizzle with a small amount of vegetable oil. Rinse greens and finely dice two peeled cloves of garlic. In a large cast iron pan or non-stick saute pan, heat on stove top at medium high heat, with 1 Tbs. vegetable oil and garlic. When garlic is fragrant, add greens, sprinkle with sea salt, and cover pan. Greens will wilt as you finish the fish

In another large cast iron pan or non-stick saute pan, heat on stove top at medium high heat, with 1 Tbs. vegetable oil. When sizzling hot, place fish in the pan, skin side up for 1 minute, then carefully flip over. They will have a tendency to stick slightly. Remove pan from heat and top each piece with a heaping spoonful of smoked chub mix. Remove potatoes from oven. Place fish in oven on a middle rack with the broiler on high. Remove when golden brown, about 5 minutes.

To serve, place the wilted greens in a small pile, top with piece of fish. Mini-rosti are served with the sour cream mixture.

Port Washington Fish Fry

The texture of freshwater whitefish is naturally soft and mildly flavored. The smoky-chive mixture adds just the right amount of flavor and the crispy potatoes hint at the traditional fish fry flavors and textures. Another variation would be to serve a larger piece of fish on a larger potato crisp. Either way, be certain to have plenty of ice cold beer on hand to wash down each flavorful, crispy bite.

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Central Waters Beer – Root Cellar Dinner

A recent barrel-aged beer throwdown occurred at my local drinking establishment between Central Waters Brewing and Potosi Brewing, two Wisconsin breweries enjoying most-favored-brewery status in my house. Seven offering from each, ranging from their respective ambers and IPAs to fully loaded, barrel-strength stouts. They were glorious.

They were also inspirational. An recent dinner gave us the perfect opportunity to pull out a selection of old favorites from Central Waters (and one extravagance from O’so) and pair them with seasonally inspired fare. Seasonal fare for the Great Lakes in winter would be root cellar offerings – the hardy remains of the late fall harvest, which were traditionally kept in cellars dug into hills throughout the region. We’re talking preserved meats, root vegetables, and anything dried. Our dinner used those elements as inspiration, rather than rigid restrictions, because…well…I can go to the store. We focused on freshly smoked meats, rather than salted or fully dried offerings. We did make everything on the grill, actually on a Green Egg, which is a bit like cooking in a old cast iron oven. Here’s the run-down:

First Course: Smoked Whitefish Dip with Central Waters Honey Blonde Ale

Lake Superior whitefish is a very light, small flake fish without a particularly strong flavor profile. The texture is often fairly soft, similar to an Icelandic cod. Once plentiful throughout the Great Lakes, it was over-fished and can now really only be found commercially in Lake Superior. We sprinkled a fresh skin-on fillet with sea salt and lemon, let it sit for about 30 minutes and then on to the grill for a slow smoke. The grill was at 250 degrees and we used mesquite chips, though I prefer applewood for this application when available. The fish was smoked through in less than 30 minutes, but we allowed it to firm up on the grill for another 15 minutes for our application. The fish was allowed to cool, then removed from the skin and flaked into a bowl. In an electric mixer went cream cheese, mayonnaise, spritz of lemon, then whipped until well blended. The cheese mixture was then folded in with the fish and a handful of diced scallions and chilled for over an hour.

We served the smoked whitefish dip on pumpernickel rye toasts with house-made yellow zucchini pickles on the side. We paired our initial offering with the Honey Blonde Ale. The beer is really bright and refreshing, with just a hint of sweetness from the honey. It is an easy opener and cleansed the palate between each bit of the whitefish. Simple, complementary flavors.

Second Course: Wild Rice, Roast Vegetables with Central Water Horicon Session IPA

Beer Dinner1

Early in the day, rainbow carrots and pearl onions were slow roasted on the grill in butter and kale was later dried on the grill until crisp. At time of service, cooked wild rice was heated with butter and shredded Sartori Family Heirloom Parmesan and the carrots were caramelized in buckwheat honey and malt vinegar. The sweet carrots were offset by the savory kale and the rich, nuttiness of the wild rice. We paired this with Central Waters Horicon Session IPA, looking for the more pronounced hop flavors to harmonize with the earthy flavors of the dish. A lovely combination, the slight bitterness in the beer made every bite of the carrots sing.

Third Course: Smoked, Maple-Glazed Chicken Thighs, Corn Puree, Roasted Mushrooms with Oisconsing Red Ale

We adapted our Smoked, Maple-glazed pheasant approach to chicken thighs and then served them on the corn puree we recently featured, inspired by Morel Restaurant. The corn was caramelized on the Green Egg for about 45 minutes, yielding a puree that was reminiscent of summer corn on the cob. The Oisconsing Red flavors tend towards the caramel malts with enough hop balance to keep it interesting. A nice pairing, though we might have considered something a bit more contrasting to set the smoky, sweetness of the dish off to a greater degree.

Fourth Course: Smoked Beef Short Ribs, Dried Cherries, Rutabaga Puree with Mudpuppy Porter

Beer Dinner2

Our Door County cherries make an appearance in this dish, with a marinade based on the spices we used for our Epic Beef Short Rib we had a few summers back. The dried cherries had been re-hydrated in a reduced beef broth and the then marinated the beef overnight. The ribs were then slow smoked over mesquite wood on the Green Egg at 275 degrees for three hours. We placed it on a puree of yukon gold potatoes and rutabaga, which we boiled until soft, then into a food processor with almond milk and butter. We finished it back on the stove top with brie and Creama Kasa from Carr Valley, which is a triple cream, adding a real richness to the dish. We paired Central Water Mudpuppy Porter with the dish to offer a deep, dark note, accenting the smoky beef flavors.

Fifth Course: Blueberry Slump with O’so Convenient Distraction (Imperial Porter with Coffee and Vanilla Bean)

A slump is basically a pie filling topped with dumplings. As we were cooking everything on the Green Egg, this was a easy way to finish the meal. We took about 4 cups of blueberries, added a dash of vanilla extract and about a 1/2 cup of maple syrup. Then we made a dumpling dough with flour, baking soda, butter, and water. We hand flattened the dough and tore irregular pieces to layer on top of the blueberries in a heavy enameled pan. Onto the Egg for 45 minutes at 300 with a top and it was perfect. We paired it with Purple Door Vanilla Ice Cream and O’so Convenient Distraction – an Imperial Porter with Colombian coffee and Madagascar vanilla bean. The bright fruit flavors were a superb complement to the dark chocolate nuances of the beer.