January 14, 2013
I’m not one for kids food, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love me a chicken tender, creamy bowl of mac and cheese or classic fish sticks. I’m embarrassed to admit that, way back when I was a teen and ate at McDonald’s, the fried fish sandwich was a favorite choice. I like fried fish so much that in a recent moment of weakness I stopped in the frozen food aisle of a healthy grocery store to see if there was such a thing as all-natural, straight forward frozen fish sticks. You know, something with an ingredients list that read something like: fish, breadcrumbs, oil, et cetera.
Perhaps somewhere in the world there is such a product, but I did not find it. So, I did as I do and headed to the fresh fish counter. I’d make my own damn fish sticks. It turns out that doing so couldn’t be easier. There are a couple of tricks, though, to making these perfect. Trust me on these—I figured them out the hard way.
How to choose a fish that won’t fall apart:
* Use a firm white fish filet like cod or tialpia. Anything more delicate, like flounder, will fall apart on you. I know.
How to perfectly coat your fish and keep the mess at bay:
* This isn’t a make or break tip, but it sure does help: Begin by dipping all of the fish sticks in flour. Do not dip any of them in the egg wash or breadcrumbs until every single one has been coated with flour. Then, and only then, move each piece of fish, one by one, through the rest of the breading process.
I used to take each fish stick through the whole breading process—from flour to egg to breadcrumbs—before moving onto the next piece of fish. The problem with this approach is that my hands would get covered in egg and breadcrumb and then I’d have to go back to flour. This makes the flour clump and messes with your ability to get a good coat on each fish stick (or chicken cutlet or whatever). By the time I was coating the last one, my fingers—and whatever I was breading—were a big ol’ mess.
How to get a perfect golden brown crust:
* Be sure to toss your breadcrumbs with a little bit of oil to get a crispy, golden brown coating. I’ve tried skipping this step or even coating the already breaded sticks with a quick spray of olive oil. Nothing does the trick quite the same as tossing the breadcrumbs with oil ahead of time.
* Bake the sticks on a rack. This allows you to achieve an even golden brown coating all around. It also keeps the fish from sticking to the pan… or parchment paper… or silpat… or aluminum foil. I’ve tried them all and a rack is your best bet, hands down.
Between these tips and the 30-minute recipe below, you’re golden—a delicious and uber kid-friendly dinner is on the table in no time. The hungry baby, who has started the horrid process of dropping his nap and is always too cracked out to eat dinner these days, ate FIVE fish sticks. Yea, these are good. Smell you later frozen fish sticks.
PS: These make an awesome kids birthday party meal!
Classic Fish Sticks
(Can be shared with kids 8+ mos)*
1/2 cup flour
Salt & freshly ground pepper
2 cups plain panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano)
Zest of 1 lemon
Old Bay seasoning, to taste (optional)
1 1/2 lbs firm white fish filet such as tilapia or cod
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a baking rack on top of a parchment lined baking sheet (the parchment is optional, but helps make clean up a snap); set aside. Add flour, salt and pepper to a wide shallow bowl or large plate and gently toss with your fingers to combine; set aside. Whisk eggs in a separate wide shallow bowl; set aside. Combine panko, olive oil, thyme, oregano, zest and Old Bay in a third wide shallow bowl or large plate and toss with your fingers to combine; set aside.
2. Cut fish into wide strips. Dredge each piece, one by one, in the seasoned flour, tapping to remove excess flour. Set each floured piece of fish on a cutting board or plate while you finish flouring each one. Once every piece has been floured, take each fish stick through the rest of the breading process: dip each one into egg wash and then immediately into seasoned breadcrumbs, making sure to press the breadcrumbs onto the fish to coat thoroughly. Set each breaded fish stick on the baking rack and repeat until they are all coated.
3. Place coated fish sticks in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown all around. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2 or 3 minutes before serving.
*Note: These delicious and tender fish sticks make a wonderful early finger food. You can also share with younger eaters 8+ months who are safely managing chunks. Simply mash with a fork or cut into age-appropriate bite sizes.
Quickie Tartar Sauce
(can be shared with kids 8+ months)*
Makes enough for 4 servings of fish sticks
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet relish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Hearty quirt of sriracha (optional)
1. Using a fork or whisk, combine all ingredients except sriracha in a bowl until the mayo is smooth. If some eaters want a spicy sauce, set aside a non-spicy portion and then add sriracha to taste. Mix well to combine. Serve immediately or save in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
*Note: Though there is nothing in this that is unsafe for younger eaters, I recommend this beginning at 8 months old when it can be used sparingly to enhance the flavor of simple, soft finger foods like fish sticks or pieces of tofu. No matter how old your eaters, be sure to serve age appropriate portions. There is no real nutritional value in this sauce and just a little bit of this flavorful stuff will do the job to excite your little one’s palate.
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