Fish Sticks that Don’t Suck
“Oh no. Why?”
That was Betsy’s response when I told her we were having fish sticks for dinner a few weeks ago. You see, Betsy and I (and many of you I’m sure) grew up in The Frozen Fish Stick Era. It’s possible that this era is still alive actually.
We all ate them as kids. They were a total staple in my childhood. I remember the tiny pale bricks as being a little on the bland side, a little on the dry side, and way on the fishy side. But if you slathered enough mayo-relish-tartar sauce on it, they were just fine.
But we can do better. It’s not too much work to make really good, fresh homemade fish sticks. You can make a big batch and they freeze fantastically or you can just eat them all right away because they are really exceptional.
Homemade Fish Sticks
Yield: Serves 4.
1 pound white fish, like cod
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon creole or cajun seasoning, divided
3 large eggs
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 quart neutral oil for frying
Jalapeno Tartar Sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Greeky yogurt
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 lemon, juice only
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
Deep fry thermometer
1) For tartar sauce, mince jalapeno and mint and stir ingredients together. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Store in the fridge until needed.
2) Slice cod (or other white fish) into planks 3-4 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. In a small bowl, toss together flour and 1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until smooth, and in a third bowl stir together panko breadcrumbs with another tablespoon of Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper.
3) Add fish to flour and toss lightly, then add to egg and coat. Finally move to Panko and press on breadcrumbs. Transfer fish sticks to a baking sheet. Let rest for five minutes before frying (or can be made in advance and store in the fridge).
4) Preheat oil to 350 degrees F. Be sure to use a deep fry thermometer to make sure the oil is the right temperature.
5) Fry fish sticks for about 5 minutes total until they are a deep golden brown and cooked through. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fish sticks.
6) Remove fish sticks and let drain on a paper towel. Serve while hot with lemons and tartar sauce.
Homemade Tartar Sauce
Before we deal with the sticks, let’s talk sauce. You can buy tartar sauce in the store that is some sort of mash-up between mayo and relish. It’s not terrible, honestly, but we can make a much cleaner and fresh version at home. I left out the pickles for mine because Betsy isn’t a pickle fan, but you could add in a small chopped dill pickle if that’s your thing.
I wanted some heat in my sauce so I added half of a jalapeno, seeded and minced very finely. Just stir everything together and taste it for seasoning. Adjust the lemon juice, salt, and pepper to your tastes and stash this in the fridge until dinner.
These are pretty straightforward honestly. There are two tricks to making a good fish stick, in my opinion. First, make sure to season your breading well. I stirred some Creole seasoning into my flour and panko breadcrumbs to give it some great base flavors.
Then cut your white fish into strips. I would shoot for strips that are about three inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter.
Keeping the strips small means that you’ll maximize your breading ratio on the sticks which is really the goal of fish sticks.
Dip the sticks into the seasoned flour to dry them off and then a quick dip in the whisked eggs. Then pack the sticks into the panko breadcrumbs so lots of the breading sticks to them.
These were my finished sticks, ready to fry. Let these rest for a few minutes before frying so the breading can really create a crust. You could actually freeze the sticks at this point and they would keep great until you needed them.
When you’re ready to cook, just heat up a few cups of oil in a large pot until the oil reaches 350 degrees F. As always, please use a deep fry thermometer when frying to avoid kitchen fires. Trust me, I know.
These guys will only need about five minutes of frying. Work in batches so the pot isn’t crowded and fry them until they are a nice golden brown color.
Then drain the sticks on a paper towel briefly and serve them with the tartar sauce!
If you’re making a large batch, you can keep the cooked sticks warm in a 200 degree F. oven while you work on the rest.
Please try these and say goodbye to the freezer sticks of days past.