I’m sure there were kids in the Midwest in the 1960s who ate all kinds of great seafood. Maybe they went “fishing” with their parents (look it up, it’s a real thing!) and ate what they caught. Or perhaps they were urban sophisticates who experienced fine dining early in their lives. I was not one of those kids. The combination of non-cooking mom and picky-eating kid meant my experience with fish was strictly this:
How my mother ever got me to eat these I have no idea but I ate them regularly throughout my childhood and learned to “cook” them myself relatively early on. I actually liked them and looked forward to them. They were as uniform and predictable as a Katherine Heigl rom-com and they usually turned out just like they look on the package. I did not, however, eat the tartar sauce — that was asking too much of my limited culinary courage. Ketchup worked just fine.
I’m sure there are kids (and adults) still eating them quite happily. If you are one of them I ask you to try, just try, making them from scratch. Like many convenience foods we consume without a second thought, it’s probably easier than you think and quite delicious. And this is the kind of dish Cook’s Country was born to take on.
Start with some cod fillets (or haddock, halibut or catfish. I used cod. Have you seen the price of halibut?) Pat dry, season and cut into stick shapes as best you can. You will then dip them, in order, into flour, egg mixed with mayo, and a saltine/breadcrumb mixture. Then a quick saute in some vegetable oil and you’re done. The tartar sauce is just mayo, minced pickles with a little pickle juice and some capers.
The hardest part was cutting the fillets into the classic stick shape; real fillets just don’t lend themselves to it. Unless the nice people at Gorton’s or Mrs. Paul’s are sourcing some kind of perfectly square breed of fish I think they’re cheating. There, I said it. For you, home cook, it doesn’t matter. Do your best and just try to get them to be similar in size and shape so they all cook at the same rate and you’ll be fine.
These are delicious and well worth making yourself. Completely do-able on a week night and maybe they will get your picky-eaters to try some fish. Yes, they can have ketchup with them. No, they can’t pick the breading off and leave the fish behind.
Crispy Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce are from the August/September 2007 issue of Cook’s Country.
Can I use canned breadcrumbs or is this a good chance to make them from the breadcrusts I have all over my freezer? Can I make my own saltines as well?
This looks like a great weeknight meal and I actually have that issue from when I subscribed to CC. But the recipe card is gone! (I used to tear them out and keep the ones that looked interesting, and obviously I didn’t have enough foresight in this case.) So I’m wondering if this is available anywhere else on the web…?
I was growing up Catholic in the sixties, and Friday night dinners were Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks (called fish fingers by my English mother), macaroni and cheese, or pasta e fagioli. Where was Deborah Madison when I really needed her?
My high school prom was held at the request of our class in the school auditorium instead of at a restaurant. It was a Friday night, and we all got a dispensation from a priest to eat meat.
Anyway, these look delicious and worth making. It doesn’t have to be a Friday, does it?
Many years ago I worked at a fish factory on Fish Pier in Boston, where fish came in whole off the boat and emerged later as fish sticks and “filet” portions. The secret to the shape of fish sticks is this: fresh filets were packed into two pop-together cardboard boxes side-by-side in a metal mold, the boxes separated by a metal divider. The whole thing, weighing about 40 lbs, is frozen solid and the blocks in cardboard stored in the freezer. Later, the block of fish is fed through a machine that cuts it into pieces of the desired size, and the conveyor belt takes them to a machine that coats them with batter and breading. Adventures in food processing. These look better.