Fry-Day night fever: Florida’s fish fry history & offerings

Fry-Day Night Fever: Florida’s Fish Fry History & Offerings

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

By Tyler Francischine

May 20, 2024

From its historic Black roots to modern-day celebrations, the fish fry remains a staple of Floridian culture and community.

Its distinctive smells and sounds can be sensed from yards away: First, your nose picks up the intoxicating aroma of fish mixed with flavorful seasoning. Next, you hear the sizzles and crackles of the fry oil, which punctuate the excited conversations had by all who surround the cast-iron skillets cooking up crispy, flaky perfection.

The fish fry has been a Southern culinary and cultural institution for more than a century, and today, it remains a symbol of community for many people across the Sunshine State. As Tasting Table reports, the Southern fish fry traces its roots to plantation life in the mid- to late 1800s. On Saturdays, enslaved peoples utilized precious time off to fish from local lakes and ponds, and many would bring home fresh catches to their families. Frying up fish on Saturday evenings provided a brief moment of communion and respite from a life of toiling labor.

As James Beard Award-winning food historian and soul food scholar Adrian Miller told the New York Times, this Saturday evening tradition evolved into a Friday night activity after slavery was abolished in the U.S. and the Black diaspora spread to cities throughout the nation, likely due to the influence of Catholic communities. As the Catholic practice of abstaining from eating meat on Fridays during Lent contributed to peak market availability and prices for fish on this day, the Friday fish fry as we know it today was born.

The classic fish fry

Never attended a Southern fish fry before? Read on to learn more about the delectable dishes you’ll get to savor.

The centerpiece of any fish fry is, of course, fried fish. One traditional recipe that James Beard Award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott swears by sees catfish seasoned with cayenne pepper, freshly ground black pepper, and salt, then generously coated with finely ground cornmeal and flour.

Scott recommends pairing this dish with rice or grits, or even sliding it between two pieces of bread to form a mouth-watering fish sandwich. Tasting Table points to popular fish fry side dishes like hushpuppies, a pop-in-your-mouth treat made of corn meal batter often seasoned with garlic, onion, and paprika, as well as coleslaw, corn bread, and desserts like pecan pie, peach cobbler, and banana pudding.

Fish fries in Florida

Ready to experience the culinary magic and cultural fellowship of a Floridian fish fry? From fish fry events for a cause to restaurants offering the freshest fried fish in comfy surrounds any day of the week, here are a few of Florida’s diverse fish fry offerings:

Fry It for A Good Cause Fish Fry Fundraiser – Fort Walton Beach

On May 17 from 12-6 p.m. at Liza Jackson Park in Fort Walton Beach, One Hopeful Place hosts Fry It for A Good Cause, a fundraiser offering $20 plates piled high with freshly fried fish, hushpuppies, and French fries.

One Hopeful Place offers affordable housing, programs, and services for the Emerald Coast’s houseless community. Each fried fish plate purchased will aid the organization in fulfilling their mission to provide everyone with self-sufficiency and the power to make a change in their life.

Fry-Day Night Fever: Florida’s Fish Fry History & Offerings

Photo courtesy of One Hopeful Place via Facebook.

LakeFest Fish Fry – Defuniak Springs

Just an hour’s drive northeast from Fort Walton Beach, LakeFest Fish Fry at Chipley Park Amphitheater in DeFuniak Springs boasts another opportunity to enjoy fried fish in the name of service.

On May 17 and 18, beginning at 11 a.m., Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, Post 4437 will host their annual fish fry, offering $12 plates complete with fried catfish, beans, coleslaw, French fries, and hushpuppies.

After feasting at the amphitheater, don’t miss the opportunity to gaze at the peaceful shores of Lake DeFuniak from all angles — Chipley Park contains 260 acres of lush greenery centered around this 40-acre, naturally spring-fed body of water.

Blessing of the Fleet, Fish Fry and Burning of the Socks – Panama City

The 27th annual iteration of this Panama City event with a curious name will be held on May 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Andrews Marina.

The Blessing of the Fleet, Fish Fry and Burning of the Socks is hosted each year by Second Chance of Northwest Florida, a non-profit organization that offers survivors of brain injuries and adults with cognitive disorders alike educational programs, including but not limited to social skills development, support groups, referral services, and offerings in the arts and recreation.

In addition to fried fish and tasty sides, a procession of water vessels will begin at noon, after which attendees will be invited to throw their winter socks into an old steel bathtub filled with flames, a symbolic gesture meant to celebrate summer’s return.

Fry-Day Night Fever: Florida’s Fish Fry History & Offerings

Photo courtesy of One Hopeful Place via Facebook.

Madroño Restaurant – Miami

Not available to make it out to one of the above fish fry events? Luckily, restaurants across the Sunshine State serve fried fish dishes bursting with unique culinary flair and the kind of diverse cultural expression one only finds in Florida.

Head to Miami’s Madroño Restaurant, located in an unassuming strip mall just north of Florida International University’s campus, to treat your taste buds to pargo a la tipitapa, or Nicaraguan-style fried fish. This deep-fried, whole red snapper dish is paired with a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce made from onions, jalapenos, and fresh tomatoes.

Each bite of this dish bursts with time-honored tradition, much like the history of the fish fry itself, as this family-owned business continues the culinary legacy of its matriarch, Abuela Maria.

Jax Fish Fry – Jacksonville

With a pair of locations in Jacksonville, Jax Fish Fry is a husband and wife-run seafood restaurant that aims to introduce Southern fish fans to the Northern style of fry fare. Here, guests can enjoy made-to-order items including fried cod sandwiches, crab cakes, lobster rolls, and fried shrimp baskets — staples of the culinary scene from which the owners hail: upstate New York.

As the owners told the Florida Times-Union, what sets apart this fried fish eatery from its Southern counterparts is its commitment to Northeastern culinary conventions. Fried cod dishes arrive to the table ever so lightly breaded and situated within a bun cut length-wise, not unlike how a hot dog is served.

Pair your fried fish with a homemade dessert — Jax Fish Fry specializes in New York-style cheesecake and brookies, which are part-cookie, part-brownie, and wholly decadent.

Fry-Day Night Fever: Florida’s Fish Fry History & Offerings

Photo courtesy of Jax Fish Fry via Facebook.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Fry-Day night fever: Florida’s fish fry history & offeringsFry-Day night fever: Florida’s fish fry history & offerings

Author

  • Tyler Francischine

    Tyler Francischine is a journalist who writes about travel, arts, culture and community. She's passionate about social justice, the Atlantic Ocean and live music.

CATEGORIES: FOOD AND DRINK
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