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Wednesday, May 16, 2007 12:59 am

Southern fish fry

A crispy fillet, some hot sauce, and bread – and you’re almost in heaven

Untitled Document Two weeks ago, a few thousand people lined up in a Columbia, S.C., parking garage for dinner. They wanted some of Lucius Moultrie’s fried whiting, despite the hearty serving of political grandstanding on the side. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who’s also South Carolina’s most senior Democrat, hosted this classic Southern fish fry as he’s been doing since 1992. The food is free so that people might stick around and get a taste of the Democratic flavor of the month; in this case, it was the merry band of presidential hopefuls, including Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Obama, and Richardson. I knew that I couldn’t be there, so I tracked down Moultrie, who’s been Clyburn’s fish-fry master since 1999. In preparation, he ordered 1,200 pounds of fish for the evening, all to be dredged in his secret-recipe fish breading used in the kitchen at Palmetto Seafood, the business he runs with his family down the road in Columbia. A mix of cornmeal and corn flour (which is finer and more pulverized) is the only clue I could coax from him, but that was enough inspiration to make up my own fish “breadin’.”
As I heated the oil and dredged my fish minus the egg wash — “it just takes away from the flavor of the fish” — I could hear Moultrie’s voice reminding me to “flip it just once so it don’t break apart.”
For a short little while, with my crispy fillet, hot sauce, and slice of white bread, I felt Southern — and, I’ve decided, that’s exactly what I want to be when I grow up.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Fish-Fry Fish 1 cup corn flour 1/2 cup cornmeal 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
At least 1 teaspoon salt and more to taste Black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons cornstarch At least 1 pint (16 ounces) of an oil with a high    smoking point, such as peanut or canola At least 1 pound of fillets of small, inexpensive fish    such as whiting, drum, white perch, bream, or    porgie (or catfish, of course)
In a large, shallow bowl, combine corn flour, cornmeal, flour, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper and, with a wooden spoon, stir to combine. Taste flour mixture for salt and heat of spice; you should be able to detect both. Add cornstarch and stir until well combined. Season the fillets on both sides with salt and     pepper. Have a small bowl of water handy. Dip the    fingers of one hand into water and pat wet fingers onto the fillets, one at a time, to moisten the fish. With the other hand, dredge the fillet into the flour mixture and coat it on both sides. Heat the oil in a deep cast-iron skillet or wok until it reaches 350 degrees. With a pair of tongs, drop the fish into the oil in small batches. Cook the fish until the bottom edges turn golden, then, with tongs, turn the fish to the other side. Cook until the second side is  golden, about two minutes. Remove the fish from oil and place it on a paper-towel-lined plate in a 200-degree oven while you cook the remaining fish. Serve with Southern fixins of your choice — hush puppies, slaw, fries — or on a slice of white bread, with hot sauce.
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