Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fried Perch with Tarragon Butter Sauce

Summer isn't just about the harvest from the garden. It's also about the fresh catch
of the day!

Geographically, for most of my life, Lake Michigan was my playground.

Nostalgically, thus even more so, from a sentimental point of view, was a small pond in the woods behind my house. Jone's Pond. It was a satisfying, easy mile trek down a well-worn dirt path I often took with my little sisters and our Beagle, Buck. It was one of my most favorite of childhood places. We fished it in the summer. We skated it in the winter. It was home to "suicide hill," a treacherous, turning sled ride that steered itself onto the frozen ice below if one could navigate and avoid the large oak trees. A crumpled sled was cast aside as a warning and a reminder ...

There were other near-by watering holes, too. Schilling's Swamp. Plum Creek.

Of course, where's there's water, there's fish. And the fresher the fish, the better the meal. Summer isn't just about garden produce. It's about the freshest catch of the day, too.

For this recipe, I used fresh ocean perch that were not frozen and had arrived that very day.  I had Brad, my fish monger, choose about one pound of the smallest filets. Lake perch is even better, if you can find them. Or afford them. Blue Gill is good, too. 

When coating a fish as delicate as perch, it's important to use crumbs that are just as delicate or fine as possible. Keep the egg wash light, too. I grew up with "buttered perch" from a family restaurant my siblings and I worked for years. It is still in existence. TIEBEL'S. A plate of buttered perch will set you back a good 40 bucks ... or more. When I worked there ... I think it was around $4.50!

For a summer treat, I finely chop fresh tarragon to season the butter. Tarragon, lemon, salt and perch. It's a simple combination for an incredible summer meal.

I first had this dish at a fancy Michigan restaurant on the shores of Lake Michigan. I loved it then. I love it now. Sometimes, I also use dried "Fines Herbs" which is perfect when paired with any delicate white fish.

  • 1 lb. fresh perch filets (lake or ocean)
  • 2 eggs
  • Milk or cream
  • Self-rising flour
  • Bread crumbs, the finer the better
  • Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon finely-minced, fresh tarragon
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh Lemon
  • Oil for frying, about two cups for a 10 - 12 inch skillet.

First, make the butter. Add the minced tarragon to the butter and microwave until melted. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Stir. Set aside.

Rinse, drain and pay dry the fish.

Gently coat with flour. Set aside.

Crack two eggs into a bowl. With a hand-held beater, gently whisk for about two minutes until thick and bubbly. This is important.

This is what a hand-held beater looks like.

Add a bit of Tabasco to the egg mixture. I generally use about 6-12 drops or so. Add 1 tablespoon of milk or cream to the mixture and whisk until blended.

Coat each floured filet into the egg mixture then gently coat with the bread crumbs. Place on a plate.

Keep the fish coating light. 

Heat about 2 cups of oil in a largish cast-iron skillet or heavy pan. When it begins to shimmer a bit, it's ready. If in doubt, put in a crust of bread or two. If it browns too quickly, lower heat. This is probably the trickiest part of frying fish. If in doubt, you could always use a thermometer that measures the heat for you.

Gently slide in a few filets skin side up! The oil will begin to bubble immediately. Cook on each side for about two minutes or so. My filets were small, so 3-4 minutes total did the trick. The first time you flip the fish, moisture will be released and the oil will splatter. Once the flesh begins to crack, it's done. You will constantly have to adjust the heat as you cook and re-add fish.

Nicely browned. Notice how the fish has "cracked." An indication it is done.

Spoon the tarragon butter sauce over the fish. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher or finishing salt and a squeeze of lemon.

Fresh fish will never smell up your kitchen. Bad fish will. So will bad company.

After coating my fish with bread crumbs, I froze three filets for later use.

Notes: I use White Lily Self-Rising Flour. It's finer in texture than regular flour. Cake flour is a good substitute. Regular flour is fine, just be sure shake off the excess. I generally use corn oil or peanut oil, about two cups for a 10-inch skillet.

If you are adverse to frying fish or anything for that matter, it pays to invest in a "hotplate" or portable gas hot plate and fry outside on your porch or in the garage. It's a game-changer, for sure!