Sure, it is really easy to buy a box of Van De Kamps, turn up the oven and have no-labor fish sticks in 20 minutes.
That actually reminds me of a story...
I am not sure who or when this happened, or if it is, in fact, a made up story, but here it goes: there was once a boy. His parents went out one night, and left him to fend for himself for dinner.
"There are fish sticks in the freezer!" said his mom as she locked the front door.
Mmm, I do like fish sticks, thought the boy. I have made them before, and it was easy! The boy took out a large cookie sheet, and dumped the entire Van De Kamps box onto it. He turned the oven on, and tossed the fish sticks in. He set a timer for 20 odd minutes, and the fish sticks were golden perfection.
He grabbed a bottle of ketchup, dumped the fish sticks out on a large platter, and hit play on his favorite show, Star Trek. He poured the ketchup into a huge glob in the center of the platter, and dove right in.
45 minutes later, Star Trek was over, and the boy had eaten all of the fish sticks. He was sick for the rest of the night.
The boy learned a very valuable lesson. Fish sticks are terrible! The boy was scarred for life, and never touched fish again.
So, lesson learned? Probably not. Fish sticks, just like everything else one learns as a child, is best in moderation. Also, why bother with the frozen stuff when it is so much better to make it yourself?
That is what I decided to do. It is actually not that difficult, and the results were probably the best fish sticks I have ever had. I didn't even need any ketchup.
This recipe comes from Serious Eats via the cookbook Canal House Cooking Volume No. 6 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton.
A couple notes to share: Season the flour, egg and panko with something. It gives the fish sticks a little edge. I used cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper. Make sure your oil isn't too hot. I don't have a meat thermometer, so after the first batch came up extra crispy, I turned it down quite a bit, and the rest of the batch was perfect.
- 1 1/2 cups panko
- 1 cup flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 pound cod filet, preferably center cut
- Salt and pepper
- Canola oil
Cut the fish into fat, evenly thick sticks about 3/4 inch thick by 3 inches long. Season them all over with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish, one piece at a time, first in the flour, then in the eggs, then in the panko.
If you like, set the fish sticks on a wire rack to rest as you bread them, up to an hour before frying them.
Add enough oil to a large cast-iron skillet to reach a depth of 1–2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until it is hot but not smoking, ideally to a temperature of 350°F (use a candy thermometer to check the temperature). (Please, make sure to do this. My first batch was WAY too hot, and got very brown. I turned the heat down, and the rest ended up perfect)
Working in batches to avoid crowding the skillet, fry the fish sticks in the hot oil until golden brown all over, 5–6 minutes. Transfer the fish sticks with metal tongs or a slotted spatula to a wire rack set over paper towels to drain. Season with salt while still hot. Serve with lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.