Chef Ben Ford Shares His 40-Person Fish Fry Recipe

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Planning on hosting a dinner party this weekend in the Hamptons? For a truly spectacular entree that will impress your guests—and capture the essence of Long Island’s East End—whip, or rather, fry up a recipe created by Chef Ben Ford. The 46 year-old chef (and son of actor Harrison Ford) has been perfecting his craft at culinary hot spots all over the country and recently released a cookbook entitled Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking, which not only focuses on using sustainable organic ingredients, but also hosting sumptuous feasts for large groups using hands-on cooking techniques.

Fish Fry Cauldron small

Channel your inner mountain man (or woman) with Ford’s “Fish Fry for a Feast.” Not only does the recipe feed 40, but it’s an interactive cooking experience that will delight guests of all ages. Though an electric deep fryer will suffice, up the wow factor by using a Cowboy Cauldron over a wood-burning fire.

10 gallons vegetable or peanut oil
15 cups whole milk (1 cup short of 1 gallon)
3 large yellow onions sliced
5 bay leaves
15 fresh thyme sprigs
13 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1⁄4 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
10 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons smoked sweet paprika
30 large eggs
20 to 25 pounds of flaky white freshwater fish fillets (such as walleye, perch, lake trout, catfish, or whitefish), or 30 to 35 pounds cleaned and gutted whole fish

Set up the cauldron on level ground. Stack the wood in a teepee-shape bonfire underneath, tucking kindling in between the logs. Pour oil into the cauldron. Light the newspaper in several places and burn the fire for about 2 hours, adding more wood as needed, or until the oil registers 350°F on an infrared thermometer. 

While the oil is heating, pour 10 cups of the milk into an extra-large bowl. Add the onions, bay leaves, thyme, 3 tablespoons of the salt, and the pepper and stir to combine. In a separate large bowl, mix the flour, cayenne, paprika, and 5 tablespoons of the remaining salt. Divide the flour into two medium bowls or casserole dishes. In another large bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 5 cups milk and the remaining 5 tablespoons salt. Set up an assembly line next to the cooking vessel in the following order: milk, flour, eggs, flour.

Working with one piece at a time, submerge the fish in the milk, dredge it in the first flour, dip it in the egg mixture, and dredge it in flour again. Carefully slip the fish into the oil. Repeat with additional fish, making sure not to overcrowd the cauldron or fryer; the fish shouldn’t touch one another. Fry the fish for 2 to 3 minutes total for fillets, 4 to 5 minutes for whole fish, until they are golden brown and crunchy on both sides, turning them once with a fry strainer. (When they’re done, the fish will float to the top of the oil.) Transfer the fish to the prepared baking sheets to drain lightly. Serve the fried fish immediately and continue frying and serving the remaining fish.

Fish Fry Recipe

Photography by Frank Ockenfels 
Copyright (c) 2014 by Ben Ford from TAMING THE FEAST published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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