We all know the scenario. It’s a Friday night and you’re wondering what to eat for dinner. It’s a no brainer – fish fry, one of Wisconsin’s most beloved and deeply rooted traditions. Anyone who grew up in a Catholic household knows the drill…no meat on Fridays during lent. This age-old dinner tradition has now extended to people of all backgrounds, but where did it all begin?

The idea of the Friday fish fry started in the late 1800’s when Roman Catholic families from Germany, Ireland and Poland settled in Wisconsin. Because of Wisconsin’s close proximity to the waters of Lake Michigan, which were filled with trout, perch, walleye and bass, fish became the ideal and affordable Friday meal. Many of Milwaukee’s breweries offered a free fish meal with the purchase of a beer.  

Fast forward to the roaring 20’s and the 18th Amendment resulting in the nationwide ban on alcohol, which could have easily ruined Brew City. However, the clever tavern and brewery owners quickly realized they could get creative and offer a free beer (under the table of course) with the purchase of a fish meal. Thus uniting the relationship of the Friday Fish Fry and beer.  

What began as a way to keep businesses afloat quickly turned into a deep rooted tradition in Wisconsin’s culture. The Friday Night Fish Fry is now a great way to kick off the weekend and relax with friends and family. The recipe hasn’t changed much, beer battered fish fillets fried to a golden crisp served with a side of potatoes, cabbage and bread.

Erin Sullivan