Thou Shalt Not Eat Thy Fish Unfried
There is something very and uniquely American about turning a religious prohibition against eating meat on Friday into an excuse to fry something. Makes you wonder if Paula Deen isn’t a closet Catholic. Our dual and contradictory obsessions with fried foods and the negative side effects of trans fat has carved out a sizeable place for most of us in culinary purgatory.
Truthfully, there are other ways to end the Lenten Friday fast besides heating a vat of oil to 375 degrees and tossing in assorted sea creatures, dipped in beer batter of course. Oh those crazy Catholics! But let’s face reality, a Friday Fish Bake or Fish Saute probably wouldn’t be as big a draw as the Fish Fry.
Growing up in the American South, which is hardly a bastion of Roman Catholicism, I remember the public schools served fish every Friday in the cafeteria. Having eaten the school’s tartar sauce once – and I stress, once – it was more than enough reason to bring my lunch on Friday’s from that point forward. To this day I’m still not sure if the green bits in the tartar sauce were suppose to be there or simply migrated to their new home over time. When I found out why the cafeteria ladies in the paper hats insisted on forcing dry fried fish sandwiched between even drier white bread on us every week, I blamed it on the only Catholic girl in my class. It took me years to forgive her.
Time passes. Life goes on. And we all change, sometimes even for the better. At least, some of us try at any rate. This year was to be a bit of a different, or at least new, experience for me. Fasting and it’s Lenten companion – culinary abstinence – is difficult for a Foodie, so I approached the season with a little trepidation. Fried fish on Friday’s just didn’t seem like an acceptable substitution for a grilled ribeye, not to mention less healthy too.
So it was that I found myself on the first Friday of Lent contemplating my lunch options and wondering, vaguely, where I could find the best fish sandwich in Lexington. Earlier in the day a troublesome conversation had taken place online. A friend had posted to his Facebook profile that what he enjoyed most about Lent was, get this, salmon patties. In fact, he went on to say he might love salmon patties more than he loves his children. Now I’ve known this individual for several years now, I am familiar with his quirks, his pet peeves (I’m one of them I think), and some of his culinary likes and dislikes. He and his wife are regular dinner guests at my house when they are in town. I also happen to think he has adorable children, so I was disturbed not only at his apparent affront to his family, but to the culinary universe as a whole. Salmon patties are, in my book, an abomination. Taking a perfectly good cut of fish, mincing it into an indistinguishable mess and mixing the resulting glob with bread crumbs before frying (there go those crazy Catholics again!) just made no sense to me. For the record I’m not crazy about crab cakes either. Having made my opinions known to both my friend and the entire Facebook community, I sat back and watched the fray develop. His own friends lined up roughly 50/50 for and against his love, or indeed any love, with salmon patties. A pretty poor showing from so called “friends” I thought. Feeling that I had made my point and received more than a token moral backing online, I headed out for a platter of mini fish sandwiches at Malone’s. Lent would be easy, I thought. I wouldn’t even have to resort to eating salmon patties.
Having never observed Lent before in my life (except as it pertained to my laundry), I quickly discovered the whole no meat on Friday rule is harder to handle than I imagined. This isn’t because I’m craving meat, or because I’m so use to eating it at every meal that I couldn’t possibly go through one day without it. The problem seems to be attributable to the early onset of Old-timer’s disease. I just plain…forget.
Dateline: Lent 2010 – 2nd Friday. After paying a visit to a downtown watering hole with some friends I found myself, well, hungry. It was about 8pm and I was within walking distance of one of my favorite hole in the wall food joints, Goodfella’s Pizza (more on them in a future post). Goodfella’s only has standing room for about 5 people inside. But I was early, the real crowd doesn’t start until after midnight, so I had the place to myself. As I finished off my second slice of pepperoni pizza it suddenly dawned on me, Oh crap, it’s Friday! I’m going to hell! I didn’t mean to eat the pepperoni, I just… forgot. Really. I even skipped lunch to comply with the one small meal a day clause. With both the fast and the meat rule in tatters, or at least crumbs, there was nothing I could do about it now. Appropriately contrite, I said a couple of Hail Mary’s on the way back to the car and hoped that God played golf and believed in mulligans. Next week Lord, I’ll do better. I promise.
Dateline: Lent 2010 – 3rd Friday. It was 11:30pm. My son had dinner already before I picked him up from his grandparent’s house. Once we arrived home the evening quickly dissolved into a marathon of Scooby-Doo movies and Lego’s. My idea of a perfect evening actually. After I tucked him in bed, the laundry, dishes from the night before, and other general housekeeping details kept pushing my own dinner further and further into the night. When I did get around to contemplating food, I was tired, I was hungry, and all I wanted to do was eat a quick meal and go to bed.
For several hours I had been thinking about the ravioli in the fridge. Perfect, I thought. A quick light dish of cheese ravioli in a nice tomato sauce would hit the spot. In 20 minutes I would be satiated and snoozing like a baby. The water on the stove started to boil, I opened the package of ravioli and tossed it into the pot. It was at that moment when I actually bothered to read the package. Pork Sausage Ravioli. You’ve got to be kidding me. I did some quick math in my head and checked the clock. It was 11:35pm. The pasta was already in the water – no turning back there. It would take about 10 minutes to cook. Dinner would be ready at a quarter to midnight. It would still be Friday. Lord, forgive the foolish and the easily tempted, for we know not what we do. And we don’t read food labels very well either. Troubled by my back to back Lenten failures, I remembered something I heard in church some weeks prior: when we stumble, God knows the intentions of our heart. Trusting in this, I offered up three more Hail Mary’s and threw in a Glory Be for good measure since it was my second offense, hoping that in addition to knowing the intentions of our heart, that God also has a sense of humor.
Tomorrow is Friday. It’s still Lent, and I think I may just skip eating altogether. Better safe than risk that third strike. Or maybe I’ll just plan on attending a fish fry. I think I might have finally figured out why Catholics hold these dinners after all.