You might be thinking, “What the heck is Crappie?” It’s a fish from the sunfish family found in our waters here at Lake Erie. Right now there are plenty around in the channels. That means you can stand on your dock and catch fish. And it doesn’t taste crappy at all! In fact, it’s a very mild white fish, delicate and delicious. Try Cornmeal Crusted Crappie or any other fresh lake fish.
One year in early April our friend Sue was catching Crappie faster than Gar could clean them. They used a five cent jig and the cheapest pole they owned and had more fun catching these fish than any other fishing trips with their expensive equipment!
This fish is so delicate it needs to be handled gently so a light crust and a quick pan fry is a great way to prepare it. I decided to use a mixture of cornmeal and plain potato chips and crushed them together in a food processor so the coating would be nice and fine. That’s where the idea for Cornmeal Crusted Crappie was born.
You don’t need to add any salt to the coating because the potato chips have enough salt. You’ll season the fish with salt before coating and season the fish again once it’s come out of the oil too.
Add the fish and the coating to a freezer bag and shake well to ensure the fish is well coated.
How to fry fish
When you’re frying food I have 2 pieces of advice: 1 – make sure you have your pan in a safe and stable location. And 2 – if you can, cook outside. I bought a very inexpensive electric element (I’m talking $20) and I use it to fry food outdoors. It has a temperature setting dial which helps keep the oil hot without overheating.
Since you’re pan frying these guys you don’t need a lot of oil. Try to get a depth of about 1/4 inch or so. Once you add the fish the level goes up and you’re only cooking one side at a time so you don’t need to go crazy with the oil. Add the butter right before cooking so it doesn’t burn. The butter is optional but it helps give the fish some colour because it isn’t cooking long enough to brown. And butter adds a bit of flavour too. Use any type of oil that can withstand higher heat like vegetable or canola oil.
Plan on 1/3 to 1/2 pound of cleaned filets per person. Before adding all the fish to the hot oil, put the tip of a small piece of fish into the pan. If it doesn’t start cooking right away, remove and wait until oil mixture is hotter. The best way to check your oil temperature is with an instant read thermometer. Ideal temperature is about 375 when you add the filets because the temperature will drop right away. You want to cook them at or near 350 for best results. If you add them too soon they’ll just soak up the oil.
How long do you fry fish?
You literally only need to cook the filets for a minute or so on each side, depending on their size. Remove them immediately to a rack over a baking sheet. This helps any extra oil drain off and prevents the coating from getting soft. Season with salt while they’re hot. If you’re making a few batches, pop the baking sheet in a hot oven for a few minutes before serving to make sure they haven’t cooled down too much.
If you don’t have Crappie, any fresh fish is great with a cornmeal and potato chip coating. Try Lake Erie Perch or Pickerel.
Here’s the recipe:
Cornmeal Crusted Crappie
- 1½ - 2 lb fresh Lake Erie Crappie or other fresh local fish
- ¾ cup cornmeal
- 1½ cup plain potato chips
- 1½-2 cups cooking oil use oil that can withstand high temperature
- 1 Tbsp butter
- salt to taste
- Add cornmeal and potato chips to food processor. Run until mixture is finely ground.
- Rinse and pat dry fish. Season lightly with salt. Cut into serving sizes if pieces are larger. Add to a sealable bag along with cornmeal mixture. Shake well to coat fish.
- Add oil to pan to a level of at least ¼ inch. Heat to approximately 375°. Add butter.
- Carefully lay fish pieces in pan and cook about 1 minute or longer (for thicker pieces) per side. Turn and cook other side.
- Remove fish from oil and lay on rack over a baking sheet. Season with salt while still hot.
- Serve with tartar sauce and lemon wedges.