How to Host the Ultimate Michigan Fish Fry

My husband and I love entertaining, but typically he stays out of my way and lets me navigate the kitchen on my own…unless we are doing a fish fry. He is an avid fisherman and spends as much time as he can from April until October fishing the Detroit River and Lake Erie trying to score enough Perch and Walleye for us to invite family and friends over a couple times during the season for an ultimate Michigan fish fry. 

With Labor Day weekend coming up, maybe you’ll be spending some time on one of Michigan’s beautiful bodies of water. Here’s everything you need to know to put together your own ultimate Michigan fish fry!

Enjoying a cruise on the Detroit River while Joe tries to get some fish in the boat!

The Main Event 

The secret to a yummy fish fry is, obviously, the fish! Although my husband catches his fish himself, there is no reason you can’t duplicate this with store bought fish. Walleye and Perch can be purchased at most grocery stores already filleted and ready to go. We like to use fish that hasn’t been frozen, but if we have to freeze it, it’s done right away and typically done with our food saver to make sure it’s just as delicious when we are ready to thaw and use it.  

Typically, my husband will cut the filets in small pieces, a few inches long. He then will dry them off to remove excess moisture to make sure the breading sticks but is not soggy. I usually get recruited to help with the following process because it’s time consuming and messy. First, he will dredge the fish in flour. Then, we will do an egg wash, making sure the filets are fully covered, and then he will coat in the breading of his choice. He usually likes to do a variety of fish fry readings. Here are our favorites:  

  • Pretzels: crushed pretzels make awesome breadcrumbs. The saltiness and a little bit of added fresh ground pepper really compliment the fish.
  • Ritz crackers: buttery Ritz with a little bit of salt and pepper make an awesome coating that everyone loves.
  • Panko: these Japanese style bread crumbs and some seasoning of your choice (we usually use Cajun or lemon pepper) fry up really nice and turn a beautiful golden brown.  


I never fry in the house—I don’t like the clean-up and I don’t like the smell it leaves behind after you are done. (I even make my bacon in the oven.) So, we bought a propane deep fryer like this one to use mainly for frying fish outside. You can use it for other things like French fries or chicken nuggets, too!  

My husband gets the oil heated to around 350 degrees and drops the fish in until they are golden brown and the fish begins to flake, which usually takes anywhere from about 90 seconds to two minutes. After they are fried, he places them a plate with a paper towel to absorb any extra oil. 

Sides and Sauces 

Our menu is almost always the same, and I don’t differ because it’s always a hit with our guests. The thing I get asked about the most is my homemade tartar sauce. Once you make your own tartar sauce, you will never use store bought stuff again! This is a very basic recipe that you can alter to your own taste—we like a lot of fresh ground pepper and lemon.  

Tartar Sauce 

  • 1 cup mayonnaise 
  • 1/2 cup onion 
  • 1/3 cup sweet pickle relish or chopped dill pickles 
  • Enough lemon juice to get to the proper consistency (usually 2-3 tablespoons) 
  • Salt and Pepper to taste 

Combine ingredients together and serve alongside your fish.  

Cole Slaw  

While coleslaw isn’t my favorite, it goes so well with this dinner that I always make it. I usually just use the pre-bagged mixed and bottled dressing, but here is a great recipe if you want to elevate the dish.   

Ranch Potatoes 

Instead of traditional fries, I always make ranch potatoes to serve at our fish fry. They are a super easy crowd pleaser that everyone (even my picky kids) will eat. I like using red potatoes because you can leave the skin on and not have to peel potatoes!  

  • 3 lbs of red potatoes, washed and quartered 
  • 1/3 cup olive oil 
  • 1 dry packet of ranch dressing mix 
  • Seasonings of your choice (I typically use a combination of garlic salt, seasoning salt, and pepper) 
  • Parmesan cheese  

Place the potatoes in large Ziploc bag; combine dry ranch mix and olive oil together and pour over potatoes. Mix in bag so that all potatoes are coated evenly. Place on baking sheet in a single layer and sprinkle with desired seasonings and parmesan cheese. Bake in 375 degree oven for 50 minutes or until potatoes are tender and crispy, stirring every 10-15 minutes so they cook evenly.  

Leftover Ideas: Just in Case

If your guests already aren’t full to the gills, I always also serve corn on the cob and King’s Hawaiian Rolls. If we ever have leftovers (which is rare), I make fish filet sliders the next day by warming the fish in the oven and toasting the rolls. Then, I place two fish pieces on the rolls and melt some cheese (usually cheddar but whatever you have on hand will work) in the oven. Then, add some tartar sauce on top. It’s great way to enjoy the leftover fish. 

If you are looking for a healthier option that isn’t light on taste, I love using this fish taco recipe with our Michigan fish. The slaw included in the recipe is great too.  

The best thing about hosting a fish fry isn’t the food, it’s sharing delicious meal with friends and family that is different than a traditional back yard BBQ. We love to see everyone enjoying our hard work out on the water and in the kitchen. This ultimate fish fry pairs best with friends, laughs, a Michigan beer, and a good fish tale about the one that got away.

With Labor Day weekend coming up, you can still plan on your own Michigan fish fry! Here are a few Family Friendly Fishing Spots In + Around Detroit. Just grab your fishing license and don’t forget to check park rules and daily limits. Enjoy!


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