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Suzzi Skripkina

Page history last edited by sskripkina@... 11 years, 6 months ago

When I think of Baltimore-specific foods, two things immidiately come to mind- fried chicken and lake trout. When I first came to Baltimore three years ago, I was baffled by the number of fast food joints that exclusively sold fried chicken and lake trout.


I had seen fried chicken joints before, though perhaps not in such absurd quantities, but lake trout? What was a lake trout anyway? I hadn't seen lake trout served anywhere outside of Baltimore. This week I decided to look into what a lake trout was, and why this fried fish dish was so popular and particular to Baltimore. I found this article:




(which I also posted on the blog)

To summarize the article, it turns out that what is known in Baltimore as the "lake trout" is not a trout at all, and it does not come from a lake. In fact, Maryland doesn't even have any natural lakes where these trouts could possibly live in. There is a fish that is actually called the lake trout, and it could be found in lakes across the northern United States and Canada, but that is not the fish served at Baltimore fast food joints. The Baltimore lake trout is actually a salt water fish, caught in the bay or the ocean. I got some conflicting results, trying to figure out what kind of fish lake trout actually was. Some sources said that it was a type of whiting, while another article stated that the lake trout was a type of hake. Sometimes, oyster trout, also known as ling, is used instead of whiting, and also falls under the category of "lake trout" once it is fried up and served at one of the fast food joints. Here is a picture of the fish in their pre-fried form at Lexington market:



The reason why these particular fish are used is because of how cheap they are. Also, both of these fish are local to Maryland, and can be found in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as in the Atlantic off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. They are fished all over the Atlantic coast, and then shipped to markets all over Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere in the country. Baltimore is the only place where it is known as "lake trout" but the fish is used in cheap fast food joint that serve fried fish all up and down the coast. Originally, the fish would be sold at the wholesale fish market downtown, but it is now generally shipped to the wholesale market in Jessup, MD. From there, it goes to Lexington Market and the various carry-outs across Baltimore. When the supply in Jessup is low, carry-outs sometimes get it delivered frozen from other wholesale markets in New York or Pennsylvania. 


According to one interpretation of the name, the reason why the lake trout is so called, is because back in the day, the boats that would come in later in the day would scream out "Late trout!" as they were pulling into the harbor. However, because of the hustle and bustle of the market, their cries would be misheard as "lake trout". 


Here is a picture of a lake trout box meal usually looks like:



Some places serve it as a sandwich, stuffing the lake trout in between two pieces of white bread, and smothering it with condiments such as mayonnaise and hot sauce, then wrapping the entire thing up in foil. 


Here is the nutritional information of a serving of lake trout, according to an article in the City Paper:



Clearly not the healthiest meal. 70% of your daily cholesterol?  And when you add fries and a drink with that, the numbers climb even higher. But lake trout consumers are probably unaware, or indifferent. After all, it's not like your carryout box comes with the nutrition label stamped to it. 


I tried finding a good recipe for lake trout that would resemble the one used at the carry-outs. However, when I would look up "lake trout recipes" on Google, it would mostly come up with recipes for the real lake trout, the one actually found in lakes, not the Baltimore variety. Most of the recipes seemed to high-end to resemble the lake trout served up in the carryout boxes. I then looked up "fried whiting recipes", and found one that seemed to come pretty close on chow.com:



Deep Fried Whiting Recipe :



  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds (7 to 9) whiting or other slender fish, cleaned, scaled, and fins, head, and tail cut off
  • About 1/4 cup store-bought chile paste
  • About 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Peanut oil for deep-frying
  1. Wash the fish and dry well. Using a cleaver or sharp heavy knife, cut the fish crosswise into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces and place in a wide bowl. Add the chile paste and 1 teaspoon of the salt and mix well to distribute the flavorings. Sprinkle on the cornstarch and again mix. The fish will not be coated but just smeared with flavoring. Set aside.
  2. Place a large wok or deep pot on your stovetop; make sure the wok or pot is stable. (Or use a deep-fryer.) Pour 2 inches of oil into the wok or pot and heat the oil over high heat. Put out a slotted spoon or a meshskimmer. To test the temperature of the oil, hold a wooden chopstick vertically in the oil, with the end touching the bottom of the pot. If the oil bubbles up around it, it has reached temperature. The oil should not be smoking; if it is, lower the heat slightly and wait for it to cool. Then test again. (A deep-fry thermometer should read 325° to 350°F.)
  3. Carefully slide in one piece of fish. The oil will bubble around it, but it should not brown immediately, just start changing color. A little of the chile paste will come off in the oil; don’t worry. Add 3 or 4 or 5 more pieces of fish (if you have a large pot or deep-fryer, you will probably have room for more). Use the slotted spoon or mesh skimmer to move the fish around in the oil and turn it occasionally, handling it gently so it stays intact. The fish will be cooked in about 2 minutes, perhaps 3, depending on how much you cook at one time; when done, the fleshwill be firm and opaque and will slide easily off the bone. Use the spoon or skimmer to lift out the pieces, pausing to let excess oil drain off them, and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining fish (see Note). Serve hot




The other food found in every carryout in Baltimore is fried chicken. Now, fried chicken may not be unique to Baltimore, but the "chicken box" is considered a Baltimore staple. The "chicken box" is a carryout box generally containing 4 to 5 chicken wings, over a mound of fries fried in chicken grease. 


Here is a picture of a chicken box, its contents smothered in hot sauce:





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