You won’t find fish like this at a restaurant. It’s not beer-battered or breaded, panko-crusted or shake-and-baked. This is the kind served at fish fries in our state, in fishermen’s backyards, and in my grandma’s kitchen. It’s home-cookin’ style, and it doesn’t exist outside that realm.An authentic Florida fish fry starts with fish caught in inshore Florida waters. I used redfish here, but trout, snook, and mullet are all wonderful. Save your fancy offshore fish for another recipe.
We debate about deep-fry vs. shallow-fry. Deep frying requires more oil, but the fish cooks faster. Shallow frying uses less oil, but then you have to flip the fish. The choice is yours.A fish fry is meant to feed the masses, so it’s a good time to invite the neighbors. They’re going to come over anyway when they smell this.Besides local fish, there’s one more ingredient that sets this apart from other regional fried fish: cornmeal. It’s mixed with some flour and lightly seasoned. Rather than a thick, separate layer, it forms a thin crust that becomes one with the fish. The cornmeal makes it crispy outside, but it also adds flavor. It’s only a hint of toasty corn, but that’s the magic. Add a little of this sauce and you won’t know what hit you.I love the smell when it hits the hot oil. I can barely wait for a nugget to cool so I can pop it in my mouth. Yep. Tastes like home.
- 1 pound fish fillets, sliced in half lengthwise if they're large
- 1 1/2 cups, give or take, buttermilk
- 3/4 cup fine to medium ground cornmeal (not coarse)
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- pinch of cayenne, optional
- oil for frying (peanut, canola, vegetable, grapeseed, corn, etc.)
- Pat the fish fillets dry. Place them in a shallow dish and cover with buttermilk. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
- Combine the cornmeal, flour, and seasonings in a shallow dish.
- Prepare a deep-fat fryer, or use a heavy-bottomed pot like a Dutch oven. Fill it no more than 2/3 with oil. Heat the oil to 350- 375. Use a thermometer, or add a couple kernels of the cornmeal and if they sizzle, it's ready. Remove each fish fillet from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drip off. Dredge in the cornmeal mixture and add them to the fryer or pot. Don't overcrowd it. Once it's golden brown, remove it from the oil and place it on a tray lined with parchment or newspaper.
- Heat a half-inch of oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until it reaches 350-375. You can use a thermometer, or add a couple kernels of the cornmeal and if they sizzle, it's ready. Remove each fish fillet from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drip off. Dredge in the cornmeal mixture and add them to the skillet. Don't overcrowd the pan. Once the bottom looks golden brown, flip and brown the other side. Remove each piece from the oil and place them on a tray lined with parchment or newspaper.
- Get it while it's hot.