Going out for a fish fry is a Friday night tradition in Wisconsin. The fish fry has a long history in the state, reaching back to the 1800s.
Almost every eatery provides its own version of the classic dish. Baked, broiled, and deep fried the fish fry is ubiquitous Wisconsin cuisine.
"I think it comes from a few different sources. One of course is the Catholic heritage in this part of the state and the state more generally, of course Lent being the obvious connection there," said Neil Prendergast, an assistant professor of history at UW-Stevens Point.
The Catholic religion forbids followers from having meat on Fridays, but having a fish fry hardly feels like a sacrifice. Fish fries have become popular among people of all faiths.
Prendergast can trace fish fries back to the 1800s, but they really gained steam in the 1920s and 30s, specifically among the bar crowd. It was a way for taverns to make money during prohibition when alcohol sales were off limits.
"That seems to be an important reason why we start to see it in the early 20th century," Prendergast said.
That's led to even more taverns and eateries offering up the delicious and inexpensive dish.
"It's not just for catholics anymore," said Mike Brady, the Polack Inn's resident fish fry expert.
Brady says the best fish fries use fresh ingredients and have all the fixings.
"We have beer battered, baked fish, german potato salad, regular potato salad, homemade coleslaw. It's all delicious," he said.
Wisconsin's proximity to the Great Lakes initially made fish an abundantly fresh source. Now, restaurants and taverns can get their fish from anywhere, but the tradition continues.
Communal eating also has its place in the state's history. That social instinct continues as we celebrate the end of the week with a Friday fish fry.
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