Fried Fish with Tartar Sauce: Recipe #12
An ode to one of America's loveliest food traditions, the Wisconsin Fish Fry
The Friday Fish Fry: a time honored Midwestern tradition.
As a New Yorker, when I moved to Minnesota 30 years ago, I was hesitant about lake fish. Living here changed my perspective.
Scroll down for my Fried Lake Fish with Tartar Sauce recipe.
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If you really want to see how it’s done, head to Wisconsin.
From dive bars to supper clubs and every restaurant in between, the Badger State knows how to do a fish fry. Year-round, nearly every eatery within its borders does one on Fridays.
Historically, it’s been perch or cod, sometimes blue gill or walleye (I’ve even seen shrimp). Though with much of the fresh water fish like perch dying off in the Great Lakes, local lake fish is a little harder to come by. Filets often are beer battered, and served with potatoes (I’m a potato pancake guy myself), coleslaw and tartar sauce. Sometimes you get a thick slice of rye or pumpernickel. If you drink, order a brandy old fashioned or Spotted Cow. Thank me later.
There’s just something about Wisconsin’s brand of hospitality I adore. It’s down-to-earth, kind and just plain fun. I don’t even drink and I still think Wisconsin has some of the best bars in America.
If you visit Wisconsin and skip a fish fry, you didn’t do it right. Here’s a list of some of the best in the state. Check before you go— some do daily fish fries, most do Fridays only.
Trip to Wisconsin not in your future? Get my fish fry recipe below.
Lake Front Brewery - Milwaukee, WI
The ultimate Wisconsin experience. Take the brewery tour, stay for the fish fry with a live polka band. And yes, they have potato pancakes.
Serb Hall - Milwaukee, WI
I loved this place from the moment I walked in while filming Bizarre Foods. Go for the fish fry— beer-battered cod, perch or pollock served in an enormous dining space that holds 1,000 people at a time. Currently, they are only doing a drive-thru Friday fish fry. I still love it.
The Kegel’s Inn - West Allis, Wisconsin
And the award for best restaurant name goes to…
Since 1924, Kegel's Inn has been the locals' go-to destination for authentic German cuisine… and Friday fish fry. Enjoy traditional family recipes, served in one of the country’s most beautiful beer halls— I’m talking hand-painted murals, original leaded glass windows, and heavy wooden beams.
The Old Fashioned - Madison, WI
It’s only been open since 2009, but this place feels like it’s been there forever. Located on the Capitol Square, their kitchen is dedicated to serving only Wisconsin traditional fare… so a fish fry is a must. Order a Spotted Cow to go with it.
Swingin’ Door Exchange - Milwaukee, WI
A cozy pub in the heart of downtown serves up an incredible fish fry, giving you choice of cod, perch, shrimp, and bluegill.
The Dorf House - Sauk City, WI
I love an iconic restaurant, and the Dorf House does it for me. Open since the 1960s, you can gorge yourself on their battered cod and hush puppies.
Lost Land Lake Lodge - Hayward, WI
Hayward is known for its lakes, lodges and lumberjacks. Serving as a resort since 1923, Lost Land Lake Lodge serves up a side of local history in addition to their all-you-can-eat Friday Fish Fry, served family-style.
Ishnala Supper Club - Wisconsin Dells, WI
Just minutes from the Wisconsin Dells (aka Wisconsin’s answer to Disney), Ishnala Supper Club always tops lists of the Best in the State. Their Friday fish fry is legendary, as is their views of Mirror Lake. Giant Norway pines grow right through the roof. Open seasonally, so check before you go.
Fried Fish with Tartar Sauce
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon minced capers
1 tablespoon minced sweet pickle
2 teaspoons minced tarragon
2 pounds of crappie, blue gill, whitefish or walleye filets, trimmed and boned
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour, well seasoned
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 quart vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Whisk together mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice and mustard in medium bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Season with the parsley, tarragon, minced capers and sweet pickles. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Cut your fish filets into pieces conducive to your presentation style. Make small pieces for sandwiches, larger pieces for dinner plate presentation.
Heat your oil to 375 degrees in a large pan over an open fire, or on your stove.
In a mixing bowl, season the flour. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the three eggs.
Dredge the fish in the flour mixture; then dip into the egg mixture, and finally into the panko bread crumbs.
Fry the fish pieces in batches until golden brown. Season with salt and serve with the tartar sauce. A few wedges of lemon are a nice touch.
Potato Latkes, ideally with applesauce. It’s just how they do it in Wisco.
Do you love a Wisconsin fish fry? Favorite spots? Share in the comments!
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