Today is the beginning of Lent, which makes this the first Friday of Fish Fry season. For the next seven weeks, those who observe the Lenten season and those who love a good fish fry will seek out seafood restaurants, church organizations, and other dining clubs that host a Friday Night Fish Fry. In the spirit of the season, we wanted to discuss the religious tradition as well as other reasons why you may want to become a seafood junkie.
Choosing Seafood During Lent
Let’s start with the traditional, religious rules. For Catholics and many other religious observers, the rule is simply any warm-blooded animal is off the menu, any cold-blooded animal and you should be fine. So, most any type of seafood should be fine….with one notable exception. Beware of sushi restaurants that, whether correctly labeled on the menu or not, may end up serving you whale, dolphin, porpoise, or one of the other 87 marine mammals that people are known to eat in various parts of the world. (Note: This also means you can eat reptile if, say, snake or alligator is on the menu at your local road-kill themed restaurant.)
What is in that Fish Fry, Anyway?
Fish Fry clubs often look for locally-sourced fish suitable for frying and seasoning according to the house recipe(s). Common fish include catfish, flounder, bass, and bream. If you’re headed to a Lent-themed night at a local seafood restaurant known for their fish n chips, then the most common fillet choice is cod, haddock, or perch. Historically, cod has been a popular choice for centuries when it comes to observing Lent. The Vikings, in particular, were known for having perfected the process of making cod jerky.
Before you start a new seafood habit in the middle of Fish Fry season, one thing to ask yourself is how healthy do you want to be? Many methods of preparing fried fish are some combination of a calorie and sodium bomb. Check out this nutritional information for the Fish n Chips at Applebee’s:
- Hand-Battered Fish & Chips: 1490 Calories, 100g Fat, 17g Saturated Fat, 1920mg Sodium
- New England Fish & Chips: 1970 Calories, 136g Fat, 24g Saturated Fat, 4180mg Sodium
There’s nothing that says you have to fry your fish to observe Lent. Grilled halibut. Boiled lobster. Baked salmon. There’s an entire menu of healthy seafood that you don’t need to fry to make a delicious meal.
Wait, Lobster? Yes, Lobster!
It can seem odd to those who think of Lent as an exercise that’s first and foremost about making a personally meaningful sacrifice, but these rules also mean that lobster is a great choice for Lent. Whether it’s the Friday before Palm Sunday or Good Friday/Passover dinner, the money that you save abstaining from meat for seven weeks can go into a celebratory feast. Ideally, the waters off the coast of Maine will stay warm enough, despite the lateness of the Lenten season, that there’s plenty of hard-shell lobster remaining. Even if New England lobstermen have to go to Canada to satisfy the demand, there will be a decent supply for those who are excited about this idea and looking to plan a lobster night with friends.
Fish and Seafood Becoming More Popular Every Day of the Week
Along with the original tradition of observing Lent, people today are eating more fish and quality seafood every day of the week. This can be seen in the statistics that suggest US Millennials are eating more seafood than previous generations as well as anecdotal evidence that many local fish fries are more popular than ever, like this community just outside of Pittsburgh. More than a delicious and affordable meal, these fish fries create a space for social events that spark new friendships and strengthen bonds throughout the community.
Maybe the future isn’t so far from the past. After all, the Lord also charged humanity with being good stewards of the Earth. And the Catholic Church is one of the world’s famous advocates for environmental justice. Maybe when you rediscover seafood this time around, it stays with you all year-long.