Like many Wisconsin residents I enjoy a good fish fry every now and again. And since today is Friday, my grandma brought over a really good fish fry for dinner. If you didn’t know, in WI you’ll be hard pressed to find a fish fry on any day but Friday, which is why it’s such a big deal.
Guide to fish fries in Milwaukee: http://onmilwaukee.com/dining/articles/fishfry.html
Since Milwaukee’s a bit far to go for a fry we get ours from the Pick N Save in Brookfield on Greenfield Ave. But fish fry ever. Just the right amount of salt and really moist fish.
Why is a fish fry only served on a Friday? Well having a large background of Catholics helped. And Catholics don’t eat meat on Friday’s during Lent. It sort of became a tradition in Wisconsin.
“The tradition of Friday night fish in Wisconsin seems to have caught fire in the 1920s and ‘30s, and persisted into the present, spreading across the state from Green Bay and Milwaukee especially. In these “epicenters,” reputedly three out of four restaurant meals served on Fridays will be fish, while over a million 8-ounce servings of fish are consumed each Friday in the state.
Frying, however, can make a worrisome foodstuff like fish, or a bland one like potatoes, more appetizing, partly because humans generally love the taste of food treated in grease and fat. Frying, especially deep-frying, is also a fast way to prepare fish—and a lot at once for a large group. So you take a seasonally abundant, cheap, but unglamorous foodstuff like fish, and match it with a seductive and quick preparation technique, and voilá, you have the foundation for a Biblical meal to feed hundreds easily, and benefit a church, community, or business. And since frying in a pool of grease typically is stinky, messy, and dangerous, it is an activity best suited to an outdoor or institutional kitchen and a public feed.
Immigrants from various national and ethnic backgrounds apparently brought the technology of frying with them to Wisconsin. Many shore dwellers readily consumed fish and likely prepared it mainly by frying. Particularly in large Catholic strongholds like Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Dubuque, Iowa, Friday nights and the 40 winter-spring days of Lent were times for eating fish (a sacrifice) and feeding fish quickly and cheaply to large families—“a fish peddler’s paradise”—until the ban on Friday consumption of meat was lifted in 1966.
Since the late 1800s, taverns in these areas have been regular customers for fish deliveries, so besides associations between Catholics and Friday fish, taverns, fish, and thus beer and spirits have long been interlinked. Prohibition, instituted in the 1920s and repealed in 1933, hurt the business of taverns, and the Depression made going out for meals, let alone obtaining food, difficult. Some taverns could keep going by offering cheap or even free meals, often of the economical fish, often on Fridays, feeding entire families and large groups of friends. Some speakeasies in the 1920s offered free fried fish dinners, and made money under the table on beer and whiskey. Others similarly lured people back to taverns after Prohibition ended in 1933 by offering free lunches and dinners, often of fish, that cheap, abundant source of protein so nicely dressed in fat. A new tradition of fried fish on Fridays year-round, in public settings for everyone, emerged.
Today no self-respecting restauranteur would NOT offer a Friday night fish fry. But since the 1950s and ‘60s, lake fish have not been consistently abundant, and more often fish is from Canadian freshwater lakes or from the Atlantic. Reliance on imports, or increasingly rare local and Atlantic fish like cod, has brought prices up, making a family meal more expensive. As fat has acquired a bad reputation, fish cooking methods have expanded. Perhaps the phenomenon is shifting into a more generalized Friday night dining tradition, less focused on fish and less distinctive to the state.” Taken from http://www.classicwisconsin.com/features/fridaynightfish.html
So if you live in WI or even near it and have never had a fish fry, I suggest you get yourself to the nearest supermarket/bar/restaurant that is selling one and try this tasty tradition. If your in the Milwaukee area, OnMilwaukee.com has a great guide to fish fries.