I have a love/hate relationship with fish. I love it when it’s done right: lightly grilled on the barbecue, pan-fried with a tangy sauce, rolled into freshly made sushi. But all too often I come to be disappointed. Dry salmon and fishy halibut are common in a city that should be chock-full of expert seafood chefs.
But I don’t blame my wishy-washy feelings toward fish on restaurants. Rather, I’ve never spent enough time with those scaly buggers in the kitchen to know how to cook them properly myself. I’m trying my hand at various recipes to slowly increase my repertoire of fish that I don’t totally mess up cooking. It’s the beginning of a slow journey. Long and slow and full of hauling fishy-smelling trash to the curb.
I’m taking this journey because I don’t want my kids to grow up in a household devoid of seafood. I was lucky enough to be raised in a family who regularly ate spectacular fish: freshly caught salmon, steamed mussels, pasta with prawns the size of my fist. But sadly I didn’t inherit the seafood gene from my parents. I have to work at loving it a little harder. Even when I was young and a steaming bowl of cioppino was placed in front of me, I was looking underneath it for the steak.
So why, you’re asking, is this post about fish sticks? My daughter loves the things. But I feel as good about baking up a plate of sticks made by the Gordon’s fisherman as I do about giving her a chicken Mc Nugget. I don’t know where the fish came from. Is it even fish? Mostly fish? Something else white and fleshy posing as fish? So I set out to make her a batch of fish sticks from scratch, using sustainable fish and identifiable ingredients. Start small, work outwards. Or that’s what I keep telling myself.
By my third attempt, I had perfect fish “sticks” that were crunchy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside. I don’t know who gobbled them up faster: me or my daughter. And best of all, I could name, pronounce and identify every ingredient in them.
I’ll consider this a small victory on the road to being a seafood-savvy cook. It’s no pan-seared ahi, but it will do for now. Baby steps, my friends.
If you have a wee one who loves fish sticks, give these a go. I promise they won’t know the difference. But you will.
The breading here is only seasoned with salt and pepper to please picky palates. For more adventurous ones, play with different seasonings! Serves 2-3 adults or 4-5 children.
- 1/2 lb filet of firm white fish (tilapia, cod, halibut)
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 c panko (japanese-style breadcrumbs)
- salt and pepper
- 4-5 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
1) Rinse fish and pat dry with a paper towel. Slice filet thinly lengthwise (to create 1/4″-1/2″ thickness) and then cut crosswise into 1″ wide strips.
2) Spoon flour into a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Beat eggs in a medium bowl. Pour panko onto a plate and season with salt and pepper. Dredge each piece of fish in the flour, then dip in the egg, then coat with panko.
3) In a large skillet, heat half the oil over medium-high heat. Fry fish in two batches, 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown and fish is cooked through, adding the rest of the oil in between batches. Transfer fish to paper towel-lined plate. Serve with a wedge of lemon and a dollop of tartar sauce if desired.