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The first step to cooking fish is actually catching a few to bring home. Just be sure you have a sharp knife, hot oil and someone to keep your family pets out of the fillet bowl! (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Cooking fish, fries, is the perfect gift(s)

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Recently I've practiced, experimented and toiled over the perfect gift. No, not determining what the perfect gift is, because the perfect gift is already in my possession. Or so I thought.

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Back-track to August 2, 1976. Little did I know upon birth that 34-years later I would not receive a state-of-the-art, portable, propane fueled, thermometer equipped, drain basket accessorized fish fryer for my birthday. Instead, I would receive two of them.

The grey clouds parted and birds or possibly angels sang (or my dog yelped when I stepped on his tail from jumping up and down from excitement) when I unwrapped the first fryer and segued to my fried fish or French fry dreams.

But when the second like-sized present turned out to be a Siamese, carbon-copy, Mary-Kate and Ashley replica of the first gift, the heavens parted; I could now cook fish and fries, simultaneously!

I learned how to cook fish as a teenager, but as with many outstanding meals, it takes some practice. Friends of mine and I decided to experiment with various breadings, including but not limited to Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles cereals and numerous flavors of crushed crackers and potato chips. Ultimately we found that a pre-packaged fish coating was the easiest and most consistent.

I've always fried fish in a pan on the stove top. But with the addition of two portable fryers, there wouldn't be the lingering scent of fried fish two days after dinner, since the apparatus is designed for outdoor use.

After a few batches of fish and fries I've come to the conclusion that I simply need more practice. However, applying the knowledge of frying fish I already possess, coupled with the new lessons I've learned, might make your next fish fry less frustrating.

First, when it comes to fire, blue flames are hotter than orange flames. With pans and fryers the flame should be small, not lapping at the sides. This will prevent a grease fire.

The oil must be hot to create crispy fish, yet not too hot or the fish will burn (and the danger of an explosion increases.) Put a wooden match in the oil and once it ignites, the oil is hot enough. However, if the oil is smoking, it's too hot and potentially hazardous. Another, more accurate option is to utilize a thermometer and strive for 350-375 degrees.

The large cooking pot for a propane fish fryer requires a large quantity of oil, which can become expensive over time. A fresh batch of oil helps create a perfect plate of fried fish, but it is possible to reuse the cooking oil. Special pumps with built-in filters permit the chef to re-store the leftover oil and are relatively inexpensive to buy.

The final fish frying suggestion from experience is to keep the container of fresh fillets off the ground and guarded at all times. If not, you may be surprised to discover your family's dogs and cats enjoying theM as much as you would have.

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