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How to Make Fish and Chips Like One of America’s Best Diners

The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook makes it easy for those who don’t live in the Catskills to get a taste of the dishes that made it a road trip destination.

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Johnny Autry

The Phoenicia Diner has become a destination restaurant, described by Eater restaurant critic Robert Sietsema as a restaurant for hicksters — former New York City residents pushed upstate by high city rent. The present iteration of The Phoenicia Diner was founded by Brooklynite Mike Cioffi after the original shut down in 2011. The restaurant slings typical diner fare at greasy spoon prices, but sources ingredients local to the surrounding Catskill Mountains.

This farm-to-table philosophy applies to the restaurant’s variation of fish and chips, which employs trout caught from the nearby Esopus River. The recipe for the dish, featured below, is found in The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook: Dishes and Dispatches from the Catskill Mountains ($30), written by Mike Cioffi, Chris Bradley and Sara B. Franklin. The cookbook helps the home cook navigate the seemingly never-ending menu of the iconic upstate establishment that has become synonymous with comfort, quality and care. If you can’t make it to Phoenicia, this is the next best thing.

Buy the Book: $30

The Fish

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Serves four

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 rainbow trout (12 to 14 ounces each), filleted
2 cups buttermilk
3 cups fine cornmeal
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedged for serving

Preparation:

1. Place a cast-iron skillet over high heat and fill with about ¼ inch of vegetable oil. Heat the oil to 375°F.

2. Cut each fish fillet crosswise into 3 equal pieces. Pour the buttermilk into a large shallow bowl and soak the trout pieces, fully submerged, in the buttermilk for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the cornmeal, paprika, salt, and pepper.

3. Set up a breading station as close to your stove as possible, setting the cornmeal mixture next to the skillet and the buttermilk-soaked trout right beside the cornmeal. Line a plate with paper towels and set it aside.

4. Working one by one, allow the excess buttermilk to drop off the trout pieces, then place the fish in the cornmeal mixture, shaking the bowl gently to ensure that the trout is completely coated. Repeat until all the fish pieces are in the cornmeal mixture.

5. Gently shake any excess coating from the trout pieces and lay them gently, one by one, in the skillet, being careful not to spatter yourself with hot oil. (You’ll need to work in at least 2 batches here, making sure the fish pieces don’t overlap with one another in the skillet.) Fry the trout pieces until light golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.

6. Transfer the fish to the paper towel–lined plate and season with salt. Repeat until all the trout pieces are fried. (You can keep the fried trout warm in a 200°F oven until all the fish has been cooked.)

7. Serve the fish hot with coleslaw, fries, and lemon wedges on the side.

The Chips

Enough for four

Ingredients:
6 large russet potatoes
Vegetable oil, for frying
Kosher salt

Preparation:

1. Fill a large bowl with water. Peel the potatoes, and place them in the water to prevent browning. Working one at a time, cut the potatoes lengthwise, first into ¼-inch-thick slices, then again into ¼-inch-thick fries. Return the sliced potatoes to the bowl of water and leave them in the fridge to soak for at least 8 hours or, better yet, overnight. (For shatteringly crisp fries, if you’re not sound asleep during the soak, change the soaking water once to help pull even more starch from the potatoes.)

2. When you’re ready to cook, remove the fries from the water and place them on towels to dry.

3. In a deep pot or Dutch oven, add enough oil to achieve a depth of 6 inches and heat the oil to 350°F (using a candy thermometer) over medium-high heat. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

4. Working in batches (you want the fries to be able to bump about freely in the pot rather than be tightly packed), cook the fries until they are soft but haven’t taken on any color, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, remove the fries from the oil and transfer to the paper towel– lined baking sheet. Repeat with all remaining fries.

5. Crank the heat up to high to increase the oil’s temperature to 400°F. Have a large bowl at the ready.

6. Working in batches, add the fries, being sure not to overfill your pot (you don’t want oil splattering and splashing over the top). Cook, leaving the fries alone, until golden brown and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the fries to a bowl and season with salt. Eat immediately

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