Homemade Fish Sticks
During the post-war era of convenience foods and frozen wonders, the frozen fish stick made its supermarket debut. Numerous brands like Gorton’s (still headquartered in Gloucester, MA) rolled out identical versions of the neatly-cut-and-breaded fillets during the mid-1950’s, and the sticks (or “fingers” as they are known in Great Britain) soon became a popular quick-fix supper choice for both kids and adults.
Today’s frozen food aisle isn’t always met with the same degree of nutritious wonder as it was 60 years ago. In order to cut costs, many frozen fish sticks now have more breading than fish, use minced fish instead of whole fillets, and pack in additives and preservatives for flavor and freshness. If you find yourself missing a simpler fish stick with more, well…fish…why not eliminate the supermarket altogether and make your own? It’s easy to make homemade fish sticks, and by choosing your own fish and making your own crumb coating, you’ll know with every bite exactly what you’re eating while continuing a fishy New England tradition!
Here’s how to make homemade fish sticks:
First you’ll need to pick up a fish fillet. Firm, white fish works best here, such as pollock, haddock, or tilapia. If you’re concerned about choosing a fish variety that’s also sustainable, the Marine Conservation Society is a great resource to help you “navigate the waters.” (Couldn’t help that one…) Cut the fish into finger-sized pieces (try to keep them as uniform as possible so they’ll bake at the same speed in the oven) and set aside. Next you’ll need to set up your dredging, dipping, and coating stations. This means a bowl of all-purpose flour, a bowl of beaten egg, and shallow bowl or tray (I used a vintage cake pan) of seasoned crumbs.
The crumbs are where you can get creative. I wanted my homemade fish sticks to have a nice crunch, so I used Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs, which are large and crisp. I seasoned them with sea salt, Old Bay seasoning, dried parsley, and an herb mix made by Penzey’s called “Mural of Flavor” – a combination of shallots, onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, basil, coriander, lemon peel, citric acid, black pepper, chives, green peppercorns, dill weed, and orange peel. I also add a little olive oil to the crumbs to combat the dryness they’ll be exposed to in the oven.
The fish gets dredged in the flour, then dipped in the beaten egg, then pressed into the crumbs for an even coating. It’s a messy process, so I like to stick several “floured and egged” strips at a time into the crumbs, wash my hands, then use a spoon to give them a light coating before pressing the fish down with my fingers into the crumbs to make sure it really sticks.
Once they’re coated, the fish sticks go onto a foil-lined baking sheet. If you want to freeze your homemade fish sticks for later, transfer the baking sheet to the freezer until they’re frozen solid, then transfer the sticks to a freezer-friendly zip-top bag.
If you want to eat them right away, you’re almost there!
To cook your fish sticks, you’ve got a few options. Baking them in the oven will crisp them up without adding any extra calories and fat (just a little cooking spray to keep them from sticking), while frying them in a little oil a large skillet will lend a lot more flavor and crunch, but with (of course) the extra unhealthy stuff. I opted to bake my fish sticks, and 12 minutes later, they were done.
Paired with a pool of tangy tartar sauce and a few squeezes of fresh lemon, these homemade fish sticks were tasty, healthy, and just plain good.