I have awesome parents. As a past social worker in another life, I do know how fortunate I am. They were young parents. They worked so hard, all the time. They are the kind of people who never take a sick day. They are high school sweethearts and are still married, into their sixties. I know I’ll never measure up to their parental awesomeness but I am glad they set a high bar for me to strive for.
I’ve spoken a great deal about my mother as a cook and my female relatives as cooks, but my dad can actually cook, too! His grilled chicken, the marinade to which he has never really completely shared, was to die for, and his burgers I still try to replicate. He is also a bartender extraordinaire, as long as your definition of bartender extraordinaire equals strong adult beverages.
One of his specialties growing up was homemade french fries and onion rings. OMG, that is a whole other level of culinary greatness…when those dishes came out, they rarely made it to the table. We attacked those platters asap. Homemade crack, basically. Salty, greasy, crispy perfection.
Later, he introduced us to his dad’s fish frys. I didn’t know his dad; grandpa Hobart died from cancer before I was born. I always loved hearing stories about him and being around his brother Joe so that I could get an idea of what he might have been like.
Through the fish frys, I could hear about my grandfather. How he battered the fish, what equipment he used to fry back in the day, and where the fish came from. Through the fish frys, I could eat the same food that my grandfather cooked and feel like I was a little more connected to him than I was before.
Here is an interview I conducted with my dad, who was kind enough to answer some questions via email. For several years, we used our turkey fryer the day after Thanksgiving to conduct the fish fry. Oh yes, honey, yes we did! Have I mentioned how much we love to eat?! 🙂
Interview with Dad, aka Phil Kinney, aka P Swizzle (not really, I just made that up):
1. What do you remember about the fish frys you attended as a kid? What time of year, or was it throughout the year?
I remember them being only in the summer. Back then, no grilling, or outside frying, was done in cold weather. Dad usually fried oysters, shrimp and fish. They would have several couples, with their kids, over and it would be a festive atmosphere. My Uncle Guy would have a fish fry at their house after going fishing at a big lake in Alabama.
2. What is the basic recipe for the fish and onion rings? What did you guys eat with it growing up? Did you catch your own fish, or just buy it?
Dad always used cracker meal for the batter. He would either crush saltines, or just buy the box of cracker meal at the store and spice it up with a little seasoning. Then, you dip the fish (catfish or tilapia are best for frying) in an egg wash, roll it in the seasoned cracker meal and put in the hot oil for a few minutes until golden brown. There are a lot of great pre-made batters available now, but for sentimental reasons, I still use Dad’s. I prefer using a turkey fryer because you can control the temperature (350 degrees) and oil depth better.
Onion rings – Soak a generous portion of Vidalia onion rings in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Pour flour into a paper bag and season with salt and pepper. Then put the crisp, moist onion rings into the paper bag, shake until coated and place evenly into the fryer. When they become golden brown, they are ready to put onto a platter with paper towels to help absorb some of the oil that is so bad [but so good] for us.
Trimmings – Most of the time there would be hushpuppies (or loaf bread), onion rings (or French fries), and slaw.
Fish source – As mentioned before, my Uncle Guy and some of his friends would go fishing and bring back fish and give it to Dad to fry. Sometimes, they would even bring back fish they caught at the beach. Dad’s real specialty was oysters and shrimp, however. He was never a fisherman or hunter. [Your grandmother] Teal also bought fish and oysters at the store.
3. Describe the contraption that Hobart used to fry the fish.
Dad used a little Craftsman charcoal stove to do his frying outside. This little stove had a grill and a skillet (fancy for the fifty’s, huh?) Obviously, he used the skillet accessory for his frying. You have to give him credit for being more skilled with his outside frying than me since he didn’t have a thermometer or a way to control the charcoal heat.
4. What advice do you have for those who might want to host their own fish fry?
I would recommend using a turkey fryer and doing it outside because it can be pretty messy. My best results have been with catfish and tilapia. Other fish certainly would be fine. There are so many batters available now, you might want to try some of those, but I’ll always go with Hobart’s. It’s a fun thing to do with friends and family. Who knows, when the kids are 64 years old they might remember their father, or grandfather, frying fish and carry on the tradition.
5. What do you enjoy most about having a fish fry?
Well, the fish and trimmings taste pretty good and people seem to like it. Most importantly, I enjoy the festive atmosphere of the occasion and the fascination that friends and family seem to have about this old tradition. I feel that Hobart is there with me. It’s kinda neat to be able to carry on a tradition that he started.
Love you Dad! Thanks for cooking such goodness for us and carrying on the fish fry tradition!
Be well. Take care of yourselves and each other,
Yellow Daisy Chick