It’s always a good idea to cook with what’s in season and right now yellow perch from Muskegon Lake is what is fresh at my house. We have had an incredible ice fishing season here in west Michigan so perch has been on the menu quite frequently. Way back I did a Reel n Smoke recipe and wet battered some fish. But this time we are going to simplify things a do a dry batter. The result will be easier to work with and have a nice light crunch to it.
This recipe isn’t something I sought out to create but was born out of necessity. Earlier this winter my mother in law was out to help us out with a sick kid. I promised a perch fry one night that week. I hit the ice after work and caught a bunch of perch, everything was going to plan. Until I went to go get the store bought fish breading I use a lot. We were out and after a quick trip to the grocery store I found that they were out too. I grabbed a few quick ingredients and knew the Reel n Smoke seasoning would pull through for me. Ever since then the questions keep coming about what those perch are battered in.
1 cup Drakes or flour
3/4 cup Cornmeal
2 tablespoons Reel 'n Smoke All-Purpose Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Salt
1 teaspoon Paprika
Get out there and catch yourself some fish. This is clearly the most fun part of the whole deal. However if you can’t make it out pick up some perch fillets at the store. They are a little pricey but well worth it. Great tasting fish begins with great prep from the lake to the table. One of the most important things is to keep them cold at all times to ensure the best tasting and firmest fillets. If you caught them ice fishing the cold water they came from is already really helping your cause. But once you get home don’t wait around to get them cleaned. Rinse the boneless fillets in cold water 3 times and get them in the fridge or freezer.
While your fillets are keeping cold it’s time to mix the batter up. You can use simple flour, but I really prefer to use Drakes Batter Mix because it adds to the flavor and gives it a really nice color. It also is another Michigan based company. A flour base on its own doesn't provide enough crunch for me so that is where the cornmeal comes in. The majority of the rest of the flavor comes from the Reel n Smoke All Purpose Seasoning. It has the perfect blend of spices and also adds an appealing look the finished product. The paprika and garlic salt are small players, but the finish it up well.
Add a few fillets at a time to the breading. While you can be fast and mix it all up in a plastic bag. I feel like I have a more consistent batter if do a few at a time by hand. It also keeps the rest of batter fresh for the remaining fish. Otherwise it may start absorbing some water causing it to clump up and not adhere to the fish as well.
Get them in the hot oil! I prefer to use peanut oil and deep fry at a temp of 374 (that is as hot as my deep fryer goes). Don’t overload your oil because it will cool the temp down just enough to keep your fish from getting crispy (10-12 fillets in my deep fryer). That nice little crunch is so critical to a good fish dinner. Take each batch off and dump into a bowl lined with paper towel to absorb any excess grease. The fish itself is cooked and safe to eat when it floats but you will want to fry longer to get them crispy. For perch fillets that is 3 to 4 minutes per batch in my deep fryer.
Sample (it’s best to try more than 1 piece) and repeat the frying process. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have frequent samples and definitely let everyone else get in on the fun too. But it is the only real way to know if you are cooking long enough or if maybe your oil is dropping in temp. If you find you are having struggles be sure to decrease the amount of fish you add with each batch or let the oil heat up again for a couple minutes. Also using an extension cord will drop your temp too so it’s best to avoid them or use a very short one.
We are going to deviate from a beer pairing in this one. I'm a big fan of keeping it simple with lagers when it comes to fish but in this one we are going to go with one best enjoyed before or after. In fact it's not a beer at all, we are going to get into a local cider. Vander Mill ciders is about 10 minutes from our house and is located in Spring Lake, Michigan. Totally Roasted is a unique and flavorful cider, it also happens to be Amanda and I's favorite cider. Cinnamon, pecans, and vanilla show through strong in this cider. You wouldn't know it has a 6.8% ABV either as it goes down incredibly smooth. You shouldn't have to look too hard to find this cider either, I highly recommend you grab a 4 pack of the 16 ounce cans next time you get a chance.