For Catholics, the 40 days of Lent are somber: late winter/early spring days of fasting, reflecting and abstaining from meat on the Fridays preceding Easter. A social event that’s a sure sign of spring, fish fries grew from the need for meatless meals and to gather together, often in a church basement. Symbolism also abounds: The well-known story of Jesus feeding a big crowd by multiplying loaves and fishes may as well be considered the first fish fry.
The traditional meal of fried fish with tartar sauce, soft rolls and coleslaw—while pretty great—is merely the jumping-off point: This spring, onsite chefs around the country are casting a wide net for the coolest takes on the fish fry.
A Lot of (Sustainable) Fish in the Sea
“We have a long-standing tradition at Portsmouth Abbey School (a Catholic boarding school in Rhode Island) of never serving meat on Fridays, which is enforced by the Benedictine monks who live on campus,” says Sarah Rodrigues, director of dining services for Sodexo at Portsmouth.
Last year, the school partnered with Red’s Best, a company that connects foodservice operations with sustainable seafood. The menu for seafood stays flexible, and “we see what [Red’s has] available that day, we order and then leave it up to my fantastic chefs to make the decision on how to prepare it,” Rodrigues says. “The response has been wonderful.”
Some great ideas the chefs have developed are miles away from the typical fish fry:
It’s Finally Happened: Fish & Waffles
The chicken & waffle craze has really taken off, but this is something new: fish & waffles. At a recent event, students at Exeter High School in New Hampshire sampled some fun seafood dishes and watched fish cooking demos by Chef Marco Suarez (pictured below) of High Liner Foods. Culinary students from the Seacoast School of Technology and Exeter’s foodservice team helped prepare the samples.
“TGI Fish Fridays are a fun and easy way for our students to choose delicious, healthy and sustainable seafood,” says Jeanne Pierce, foodservice director for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District.
Deep Faith and Crab Cakes
“As a Jesuit/Catholic university we feel it’s important to have this [seafood] menu option on Fridays,” says Elizabeth Emery, director of dining services at Boston College (BC). In fact, many Catholics abstain from meat every Friday, whether it’s Lent or not, so at BC, seafood dishes are a year-round draw on the menu rotation.
However, “one item we run specifically during Lent is the Crab Cake Panini at Hillside Café,” says Michael Kann, associate director of food and beverage, BC Dining Services. Crab cakes are browned on a griddle, then chilled before service. Each panini is made with two slices of soft, eggy brioche, slathered with pesto mayo and topped with cheese before getting pressed into a fun, portable meatless meal.