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Fried Sac-à-lait Recipe
Posted in July of 2015: Earlier this month my nephew and I made a trip to our favorite North Louisiana fishing hole where we battled dense woods, slippery banks, wild hogs and countless wait-a-minute vines, just to catch a few bass and a couple dozen pan fish. Well, that’s not entirely true.
We didn’t exactly “battle” the wild hogs, but we did cross paths with quite a few. And really this was about a lot more than catching fish. You see, this river we fished holds a special place in our hearts. My father grew up on it, and just like many of the stories he graciously shared on this website every Thanksgiving, many of my treasured childhood memories are rooted on its banks. Remember that story of the water-scout lure and the bass with the bait in his mouth? Well, my nephew, John, had a bass break his line about 50 yards from that very spot.
Anyway, I degress. This is supposed to be a recipe page, so let’s get right to it.
I know of no freshwater fish that’s better to eat, or more fun to catch, than the Sac-à-lait (also known as Crappie or White Perch, depending on where you find yourself). If you’re fortunate enough to catch a nice mess of ’em, try this method of frying them and let me know what you think.
Fried Sac-à-lait (a.k.a. White Perch, Crappie) Recipe
I cook most of my sac-à-lait whole, but I like to fillet a few to make it easier for my kids to enjoy.
Prepare the whole fish (scaled, gutted and de-headed) by washing them thoroughly inside and out and removing the fins and tails. The easiest way to cut off the fins is with a sharp pair of kichen shears (scissors).
Next, cut a few shallow, diagonal slits, about a 1/4 inch deep, on each side of the fish. (See pics in photo gallery.) This allows the seasoning to penetrate a bit, and makes for a nice presentation.
Season the fish generously, inside and out, with your favorite cajun seasoning like Charles Alexander’s C’Mon Man!, Tony Chachere’s or Zataran’s. If you don’t have a good cajun seasoning, you can make your own by combining salt, red pepper, black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Place the seasoned fish in a large ziplock bag and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
In a medium rectangular pan, mix one beaten egg and about a cup of milk. Buttermilk is best, but not neccessary. And if you like it extra spicy, add a dash of your favorite hot sauce.
Pour a few cups of your favorite “fish-fry” dry batter into a large zip-lock bag. Sometimes I make my own “fish-fry” by combining equal parts of flour and cornmeal, but often I use a store-bought mix as they are plentiful and very good. (This time around I used Tony Chachere’s Crispy Southern Style.)
Heat vegertable or peanut oil in a large pan to 375° F. It's important to get your temperature right, and I strongly advise using a thermometer that you can clip onto your pan to monitor the temperature.
Working with about three fish at a time (depending on the size of your pan - you don’t want to over-crowd them), dredge the fish in the milk/egg mixture, shake off the excess, and place in the zip-lock bag filled with your “fish fry” dry mix. Seal the bag and shake vigorously to evenly coat the fish with the batter.
As soon as your oil reaches 375° F, carefully drop the fish into the oil and allow to cook for about 3-4 minutes per side for whole fish, or 2-3 minutes per side for fillets. You'll know when they’re ready by the golden brown color and the fact that they begin to float freely when done.
Now here's a tip that I've learned that helps a lot. Line a large cookie sheet with paper towels and place a wire baking rack on top of it. When the fish are done, remove them from the oil and place them directly onto the wire rack, then keep them warm/crisp in a 200° F oven while you cook subsequent batches. (As you can see in my photo, I use my outdoor grill, with indirect heat, as my warming oven for this purpose.)
Note: When you add and remove fish to your oil, its temperature will change. Constantly monitor the themometer and adjust your heat to maintain a temperature between 350° F and 380° F, shooting for about 365° F.
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