Growing up in a catholic family meant we always ate fish on Fridays, especially Good Friday. Never fish and chips from the local shop but crumbed King George whiting made by my mother. While not the cheapest fish at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market, I am sure the King George whiting my dad bought back in the sixties and seventies was not the hefty price it is today. I was very fortunate to eat so well, my mother even making the crumbs from scratch with the saved household stale bread and the fillets were of course boneless which, for a child, is so important. I’m sure it is the fear adults have of children accidentally choking on a bone that somehow make many grow up thinking that fish is all too difficult and should be avoided altogether. It is a shame because after half a century of eating a wonderful variety of fillets and whole fish I’ve never had a bone get stuck in my throat. As a kid I started with the crumbed whiting fillets, sort of trainer wheels for a life of fish eating, and then graduated to eating a whole brown trout on my own sometime in my early teens; my mum explaining the use of the mysterious fish cutlery in the process. The thing that made eating fish so good in my experience was that my family bought it fresh from the market on Fridays or better still either my dad or I caught fish ourselves. I had a fishing rod as soon as I could walk and was landing fish from the age of six. On one memorable expedition I caught six flathead in succession from the back of a cargo ship en route to Geelong much to the dismay of the crew members who failed to nab a single fish. Not knowing what to do with my booty the first engineer suggested I take it down to the kitchen and impress the cook. The cook was thrilled and set about filleting and then cooking me a fish lunch. I felt pretty special that day. When we docked in Geelong the following day I recounted my fishing glory to my father and he asked me whether I had managed to cast the hand-line myself. When I told him that the crew did that for me he said, “well you can only claim the fish if you cast the line as well as bring it in” — tough love!
Enough of fishing stories. Here’s the way I cook crumbed KG whiting. I use panko crumbs if I haven’t made my own dried breadcrumbs and they work extremely well with the added bonus that they don’t absorb as much oil as regular breadcrumbs. If you find them a bit coarse you can blitz them for a second in a food processor. Prepare any sides you are having in advance as you want the fish to go from frypan to plate to table without too much delay. The method of crumbing fish or anything for that matter is to dust it in seasoned plain flour; I do this directly in the plastic bag the fish came in to save on dishes. Hold the opening of the bag tightly and give the contents a good shake. Next, dip each fillet in beaten whole egg, coating the fillet evenly and drain off excess egg. Next place the fish on a plate covered with a thick layer of crumbs, brush the crumbs over the fish and pat the fish evenly and gently until the crumbs stick. Turn over the fish and repeat. Once all the fish are crumbed you are ready to fry.
The best oil for frying is neutral tasting oil such as grape seed oil, sunflower or canola. Pour in enough oil to cover the frypan to a depth of about 1 cm. The trick with cooking fish is to have hot oil but not to cook at too high a heat so, turn it down to medium before you add the fish. To check that the oil is hot put a few breadcrumbs in first and see if they sizzle and start to go a golden colour. Place the fish skin side up first and fry for 1.5 to 2 minutes max then turn them over and cook the other side for the same amount of time. The coating should be a lovely golden colour and will puff up slightly if everything is going right. Drain the cooked fish on paper towel and serve immediately with some lemon to squeeze. King George whiting prepared this way will be delicate pillows of lightness that any child or adult will thoroughly enjoy.