LAURINBURG — In the Southeast, where both river and ocean access are plentiful, it is probably no accident that one of the biggest social gatherings involves fish, particularly a fish fry.
Traditionally fish fries were social gatherings where fishing enthusiasts fry would up their catch and invite friends and family over to enjoy the fruits of their labor like a cookout with fish. The events have also been used for church socials like homecomings or ingatherings.
Popular fish for frying are bream, catfish, flounder or bass − in the western regions of North Carolina, trout is preferred. The fish is breaded and deep fried. A typical fish fry includes side dishes of coleslaw, hush puppies and, of course sweet iced tea.
At some point an ingenious person hit upon a way to make these popular events profitable and fish fries as fundraisers became a recurring theme.
There are three local groups whose regular fundraisers have become popular: The Knights of Columbus of St. Mary Catholic Church, The Optimist Club and the Scotland County Republican Party.
These three groups have gotten their preparation and cooking skills down to an art in the name of charity.
As with any popular meal there is a debate about the best recipe to use which fish is best and which fish batter or hush puppy batter works or tastes better.
For fish, some prefer bread crumbs, cornmeal or flour and some prefer a mixture of cornmeal and flour. Some dredge the fish in egg before coating; others us milk or buttermilk, and others dip it straight into the mix.
All three groups use flounder, and most of the three use a prepared batter with their own tweaks.
Mark Schenk, chairman of the county Republican Party was coy about the batter coating his group uses at its yearly fish fries but did say that over time they have learned that flounder is the better option.
“It’s best. There are no bones to mess with; it’s all fillets, no scales to mess with, and there’s no strong taste. Flounder has a milder taste than something like herring or salmon,” Schenk said.
Knights of Columbus Grand Knight Paul Morrow’s group prefers baby flounder for a practical reason.
“It’s one to three pound pieces, smaller than what they [restaurants] typically use; so we can give three nice pieces on a plate,” Morrow said.
Though they order their batter and hush puppy mix from Captain Larry’s restaurant, the Knights like any good chef have a secret weapon– egg wash and seasoning.
“We add black pepper to the mix; then, we use an egg wash on the pieces and then the breader. Before we fry it we do an additional breading,” he said.
Morrow said that he is not usually a fan of fish but enjoys eating the fish that the Knights of Columbus fry up.
The Optimists use House Autry Fish Fry to batter its fish and House Autry hush puppy mix, but they say it’s all in the way it’s cooked, not in the recipe.
“We’ll put our product up against anybody else’s fish in this town,” bragged a member.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169