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Arkadelphia Siftings Herald - Arkadelphia, AR
  • Church prepares for first fish fry of the Lenten season

  • Perfectly cooked fish is the key to a successful fry. The batter must be crisp and crunchy, and the delicate filet must stay tender and moist. Getting it just right is tricky. Then throw in working conditions: Scalding oil, intense heat and hungry diners who want it fast.

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  • The holy season of Lent has begun, and I can’t help but wonder, is there a special place in heaven for fry guys?
    My guess? A resounding yes.
    That’s because the volunteers who run the hot oil fryers at Lenten fish fries truly are a special breed of folk. And scores of them will kick into action Friday as a multitude of churches and organizations host their first fish fry of the season.
    Take Sandy Bialota of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Canton, Ohio. His wife, Bridgett, has been coordinating the church’s fish fry for 15 years. From the start, Bridgett recruited Sandy to fry the fish, which takes place in the basement of the church.
    “Bridgett has been in charge a long time,” Sandy said with a chuckle. “Which means I’ve been in the basement a long time.”
    Perfectly cooked fish is the key to a successful fry. The batter must be crisp and crunchy, and the delicate filet must stay tender and moist. Getting it just right is tricky. Then throw in working conditions: Scalding oil, intense heat and hungry diners who want it fast.
    Sandy and two other men work the fryers from 4:15 p.m. to 7:30 for six Fridays during Lent.
    “It’s pretty hectic, it’s non-stop,” Sandy said. “It smells like hot oil and fish, it’s real hot, and there’s not a whole lot of room down there.”
    Bridgett is amazed at their output.
    “If we serve 800 dinners, you’re looking at 2,000 pieces of fried fish in three hours,” she said.
    By the end of the night, St. Joe’s “Basement Boys,” as they are fondly called, are sweaty, tired and smell like human fish sticks. And guess what? They, like fry guys all over town, work their shift with a joyful heart.
    “It’s a lot of fun,” Sandy said. “Were a team, there’s a lot of camaraderie.”
    The church serves about 4,000 dinners during Lent. Much of the event’s success stems from quality cooking, Bridgett says.
    “We change the oil in the fryer every week, and that makes a big difference,” she said. “We make our own beer batter. We run through a keg and a half of Busch Light a week.”
    Just about everything else on the menu is made from scratch as well. The macaroni and cheese, the fresh-cut fries and even the cole slaw. They also serve fried shrimp and offer baked scrod for those who prefer a lighter meal.
    The church has hosted fish fries for 30 years, and they are a parish project that involves dozens of volunteers. Proceeds, which are about $15,000, benefit the church budget and programs. But it’s more than about making money, Bridgett said.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It’s an asset to the parish and the community in general,” she said. “It’s really a social event.”
    Parishioner Joanne Frasher has been attending the fish fries for at least 20 years. She says their fried fish is like no other.
    “I primarily am a fish eater. I don’t particularly care for meat, so I consider myself a fish connoisseur,” Frasher said. “This is obviously good quality, it’s always fresh, and it’s cooked just right. The batter is nice; not too heavy, and just the right amount of it.”

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