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For Lenten, is it fish fries or frys? We went to the top to get an answer | Where NOLA Eats | nola.com

Lent is here.

So is the salvation of many a harried Catholic couple with three or four mouths to feed on a seafood-only Friday night: the parish fish fry.

The fish fry has become a savory staple of parish fellowship. All in good fun, and in the advancement of culinary civilization, many parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have embarked on a seafood arms race that would require drones with infrared cameras to monitor properly.

What used to be fairly simple fare — one piece of fried catfish, a couple of scoops of potato salad and a dinner roll — has evolved into delights more suited for silver-platter covers than for Styrofoam. Think Brigsten’s and Galatoire’s, not the Men’s Club in the school cafeteria.

Seeking repeat business and word-of-mouth promotion, some parishes vary their menus each Friday of Lent, providing alternating options such as shrimp and okra, blackened catfish, shrimp and grits, shrimp pasta Alfredo, crab and corn bisque, and, for the healthy eater, even grilled redfish.

The fish fry also brings to mind an esoteric grammar lesson — really, a pitched battle where semicolons, ampersands and the Oxford comma are flung into the sky like arrows — regarding the proper usage of the plural of fish “fry.”

Inquiring minds need to know: Should the headline of their calendar-of-events listings be fish “fries” or fish “frys”?

There are rules to be followed, even when both possible answers look wrong.

First, let’s dispense with what we know the plural of fish fry is not. Anyone who uses fish “fry’s” — where the apostrophe somehow tricks the brain into believing a possessive is a plural — is hereby required to repeat third grade with Sister Mary de Lourdes, for whom the improper use of an apostrophe would bring on a case of apoplexy.

Normally, in tough cases of grammar usage, editors rely on The Associated Press stylebook, which, of course, is conspiratorially silent on the plural of fish fry.

Often, it’s helpful to Google the two competing versions — in this case, “Is it fish fries or fish frys?” — and then see what pops up. When the replies come up 50-50, that’s about as helpful and accurate as flipping a coin.

That’s not a good answer.

Enter Alex Martin, writing chief of The Wall Street Journal, a Holy Cross High School graduate who worked for The Times-Picayune in the 1980s and then for New York Newsday on Long Island for 16 years.

Martin attended Sts. Peter and Paul Elementary School on Burgundy Street, and his dad used to work at the family restaurant — Martin’s Po-Boys — on St. Claude Avenue.

“We ate fish a lot on Fridays, but there was all manner of stuff — fried fish, fish sticks and French fry po-boys,” Martin said. “We would eat the French fry po-boys without the stuff that makes them great — the roast beef gravy.”

Martin knows po-boys. He also knows poor grammar. Realizing the culinary history of New Orleans rested on the answer to the plural of fish fry, he embarked on a serious investigation.

Every Thursday we give you the scoop on NOLA dining. Sign up today.

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