It’s hard to argue with fried fish and cold beer. Mix ‘em together, and well – that’s damn near Kryptonite. Light, crunchy, and a breeze to prepare, this Beer Battered Fish & Chips recipe is the perfect complement to any summer evening. Pull up a seat – the oil’s ripping and the cooler’s stocked.
Back to the Bay
You guessed it, for this installment we’re back on the trusty Chesapeake. However, this time, my buddy Andrew Braker got to join the party. Andrew is the Ethics, Etiquette, and Education Editor here at Flylords. As you probably could’ve guessed from his title, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. Born and raised a Marylander, he’s no stranger to brackish water or flinging flies to our target species – white perch.
White perch (Morone americana) range from Nova Scotia to South Carolina, but lucky for us, the Chesapeake Bay holds one of the largest populations. Delicious and abundant, these semi-anadromous fish are popular among recreational anglers and commercial watermen alike. Juvenile white perch feed predominantly on aquatic insects and small crustaceans, but as they age they transition to a diet of crabs, shrimp, and small baitfish. They’re not as flashy and they don’t grow as large as other fish in the Bay, but to the initiated, a cooler of perch is a beautiful thing.
How to Catch White Perch
I’ve never known perch to be too persnickety, but sometimes you’ll have to work through a few flies to find the ticket. Depending on water clarity, temperature, and depth their preferences can change. Generally, I like to throw small weighted flies that can skip across the bottom with each strip, similar to the action of a jig. Brightly colored clousers, deceivers, and shrimp patterns all have a special place in my fly box. When fishing bays and tidal tributaries, I tend to focus my efforts on structure during outgoing tides. Jetties, seawalls, docks, and even downed trees, are all worth a few casts. White perch may not be on any magazine covers, but don’t let that fool you – they’re a blast to catch and about as tasty as they come.
At this point, some of you may be thinking:
“All this talk about white perch… shouldn’t we be reading about stripers? This is the Chesapeake for crying out loud!”
Well, yeah – in all fairness, I wish you could be reading a striped bass recipe, too. But in reality, the population ain’t doing so hot. While it would have been perfectly legal for us to keep a striper, we opted for a more sustainable option. Below is a graphic summarizing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Chesapeake Bay 2022 young-of-year survey results for striped bass. As you’ll see, the numbers are down. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. As we’ve seen in the past, with proper regulation adjustments, stripers can bounce back handsomely. But just as your financial advisor has told you, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
In Andrew’s article, “Fishing Ethics: Responsible Harvest,” he summarized this sentiment well:
“While regulations are usually adjusted to guide the public towards the harvesting of more sustainable species, sometimes regulations are not as informed and time sensitive as the local knowledge found in the angling community.”
I couldn’t agree more. Anglers with a self-regulated ethos can do a lot of good. We know stripers are struggling, let’s give them some room to breathe. And besides, I prefer eating perch anyways.
Fire up the Fryer
Alright, now that we have a little bit more context, let’s get to cooking. When it comes down to it, deep frying fish is more of an art than a science. The technique is sort-of nuanced, but as long as you keep a few things in mind, you (and your fish) will be golden. Pay close attention to the following tips and you’ll be munching on some heavenly bits before you know it.
5 Hot Tips
1. Dry and season fillets before battering:
Some folks don’t season their fish, only their batter – we’re not some folks. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels, then season before battering. This helps keep the seasoning amount uniform across the board.
2. Oil temperature:
Make sure the oil has truly reached 375⁰F before frying. After adding your fish or potatoes the oil temperature will fall – that’s OK. Don’t adjust the temperature in an attempt to jump back to 375⁰F quickly. Keep everything the same and let the temperature recover naturally. With that being said, make sure you’re back to 375⁰F before dropping in the next batch.
3. Don’t overcrowd:
Everyone loves crisp. But to achieve the perfect crispiness, your ingredients need space. Don’t try to speed things up by overloading your deer fryer or pan. Make sure each piece has room to freely float in the oil.
4. Use a cooling rack with paper towels:
While your fish and chips are cooling (if they make it that far), set them on a metal cooling rack above a few paper towels. This allows them to shed excess oil and keeps them crispy.
5. Get it while it’s hot:
This is one of those meals that I’d suggest eating in batches. The optimum time to eat fish & chips is a minute or two after being removed from the oil. That’s when they’re nice and hot and crispy. If you had a formal sit-down in mind, this one probably isn’t for you. It’s a fish fry after all – embrace it.
Until next time, enjoy and good luck out there!
Fat Tire Beer Battered Fish & Chips Recipe
- 2 pounds white perch fillets, skinless
- 4 russet potatoes, thinly sliced
- 2-4 cups neutral cooking oil (depending on fryer/pan size)
- 8-10 fluid ounces Fat Tire amber ale, cold
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 large lemon
- Coarse sea salt, to taste
- Tartar sauce, for dipping (optional)
- Cut potatoes into 1/8″ slices, then place in a bowl of water. Place the bowl in a cooler or fridge while preparing the fish.
- Pat fish fillets dry with a paper towel, then evenly season with Old Bay, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika.
- Heat oil to 375⁰F in a deep fryer or frying pan on the stovetop.
- Combine flour, egg, hot sauce, and beer in a bowl and mix thoroughly. You want the batter to be slightly thicker than pancake mix. Add more beer or flour as needed to achieve this consistency. Place mix in a cooler or fridge.
- Dredge the number of fillets that will fit in your fryer through the beer batter. Place the batter back in the cooler or fridge afterwards. Fry fillets until golden brown.
- Transfer fish to a cooling rack. While still hot, sprinkle coarse sea salt and squeeze fresh lemon juice to taste. Dip in tartar sauce if desired.
- Repeat steps 5-6 until all of the fish has been cooked.
- Remove potato slices from the fridge, empty water, and pat dry with paper towels.
- Fry until golden brown. While still hot, sprinkle coarse sea salt or Old Bay seasoning to taste. Repeat until all of the chips have been cooked. Feel free to alternate between batches of fish and batches of chips.
- Dig in if you haven’t already. Pair with a Fat Tire amber ale and let the fish tales ensue.
Check out Andrew Braker’s article from this trip, “Fishing Ethics: Responsible Harvest” below.
Many thanks to Fat Tire for being a part of the adventure… grab yourself some brew here!
Article by Flylords Food Editor Kirk Marks, an angler, photographer, and culinary aficionado based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow at @kirkymarks.