On our recent trip to the Adirondacks (if you’re catching up, read about our weekend Adirondacks getaway trip here), we were eager to take advantage of the start of bass season. My dad always likes to go early in the season, just after the third week of June, when the fishing is at its peak. Growing up not far from the area, he used to get season licenses, but nowadays, we spring for one-day or one-week licenses for our pilgrimages up to the mountains.
When this Beer Batter Fish Fry was invented, we were camping deep in the Adirondacks with 9 people to feed–us, my aunt, uncle, and cousins. For dinner that night, we had a true fish fry, with a total of 8 freshwater large and smallmouth bass!
My cousins, especially our resident boy scout, Chris, proclaimed how good the batter was–lots of incredulous headshaking and silent munching (always a hallmark of an epic meal).
And let’s just say that the meals we prepared on that camping trip put any and all previous scout camping trip meals to shame! Case in point, we rigged the campsite fire for a slow-cooked LEG OF LAMB.
Yeah. We went there. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. During various other camping trips with our cousins, my aunt’s beloved recipe for Smoked Turkey Legs have also been enjoyed.
But I digress…
We wrote the recipe for this beer batter fish fry down–a frankenstein-ed concoction of premeditated ratios (we were optimistic about our chances for fish when packing provisions) and what we happened to have on hand (namely Bisquick, the dregs of a bag of tortilla chips, and a handy bottle of beer).
We almost lost the raggedy piece of coal-and-grease-shmeared paper that we wrote the recipe on all those years ago, but we managed to dig it up from the family archives and recreate the finer points of the beer batter fish fry recipe from memory.
In case you don’t find yourself somewhere out in the wilderness with a string of bass trailing your canoe, this beer batter fish fry recipe works well for any light fish: cod, halibut, etc. But in our experience, we reserve this recipe for the largemouth and smallmouth bass around the campfire.
As a Chinese family, it may be standard practice to cook a fresh fish whole, but it’s become somewhat of a tradition to filet the largest of the catch and have a beer batter fish fry on the campsite instead.
If you’re at a campsite, “labor of love” doesn’t really begin to cover the process of frying fish over an open flame AND making potato wedges AND tartar sauce. We know it sounds a little wacky, but if you have 4 or more people, it’s worth the bit of hassle––and the memories.
Here’s how to do it!
(Serves 8. You can cut the recipe in half if you have less people or if the fishing gods are not with you that day!)
Scroll down for the recipe card with full list of ingredients. Read on for detailed instructions with step-by-step photos.
First, prep your fire and heat a cast-iron pot over the grate. It will take a while for the oil to heat up. The oil should be between 350-375F. You can use a spare piece of potato to check if the oil’s ready (if it sizzles right away when inserted into the oil, then you’ve got the right temperature) or use a trusty kitchen thermometer.
To make the potato wedges, prepare your potatoes. Soak them in a large bowl of water, drain, then dump them onto a kitchen towel to blot them dry. Then, in a separate bowl, combine the flour, paprika, black pepper, and salt. Add the potatoes and toss thoroughly to coat.
The potato wedges should be fried first for about 10 to 11 minutes until golden brown.
Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or a good old paper plate. If you like the wedges really crispy, you can then refry them for 1 to 2 minutes when ready to serve.
While the potatoes are cooking, whip up your tartar sauce. Combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, chopped pickle, shallot, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside until you’re ready to eat!
To make the fish batter, mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.
Add the oil and beer and stir until well-combined. Next, fold in the finely-crushed white or yellow corn tortilla chips, and let the batter rest for 20 minutes.
Make sure the oil is still hot after frying the potatoes. It’s important to maintain a nice solid bed of hot coals that will take you through the cooking process from start to finish, or you can use a portable gas burner.
Make sure the fish fillets are well drained and patted dry with paper towels if necessary. (We don’t have a tutorial on filleting freshwater bass, but a quick Google search will reveal a range of tutorials! It’s a snap with a sharp filet knife and a bit of careful technique.)
Lightly dredge them with the last ¼ cup of flour.
Next, grab the end of one filet and dip both sides in the batter until well coated, letting the excess drip back into the bowl.
Lower the fish fillet into the oil carefully, slowly swishing the lower half of the filet once or twice so the oil cooks it partially; then lower the rest in one steady motion.
This ensures the batter cooks just enough so that it won’t stick to the pot when you drop in the rest of the filet. The key to frying is to not be afraid of the hot oil. Dropping the fish in with a splash is dangerous, so be sure to use a slow and steady hand.
Ideally, you want the initial frying temperature to be 375F since the first batch will cool the oil immediately. The temperature will drop to 350F which is okay, but any lower than 350F, and you’ll get a soggy piece of fish. Any higher, and your batter may burn. Fry the fish for a total of 4 to 5 minutes on each side, but do turn them frequently. A pretty good proxy is when the batter is golden brown and crisp.
Transfer the fried fish to a plate lined with paper towels and serve hot with the potato wedges and tartar sauce on the side. It will be the best camping meal fish fry you’ll ever have!