Fish sticks were a top three dinner in my house growing up. Not that they were top three for being a favorite or delicious, but just that they were a constant.
I’m sure you know the fish sticks I’m talking about: the kind that come straight from the freezer and are made with some sort of strange mush?
Fish mush? YUM!
KID-FRIENDLY HOMEMADE FISH STICKS
I grew up on fish sticks, though, and let’s face it—they’re a great way to get kids comfortable with eating fish because most are made with very mild varieties.
My kids know the mass-produced frozen version and like them, but I hadn’t made fresh fish sticks for my two-year old before I tested this recipe. I was fairly certain she wouldn’t eat them because she subsists on blueberries, milk, and re-readings of Brown Bear Brown Bear.
But there’s no need to raid the freezer for fish sticks!
You can make these delicious panko fish sticks using real fish filets in about 30 minutes. I can do it faster, actually, but I’m a kitchen ninja. Keep practicing and you can get your kitchen ninja award also!
THE BEST FISH FOR FISH STICKS
If you ever find yourself looking at a variety of fish that you’ve never cooked before, it’s a good bet that you can make it delicious by breading and frying it. Actually, maybe that goes for any food, but definitely for fish.
You can use a huge range of fish for these fish sticks. Keep a few things in mind though:
- First, stay away from fish with strong flavors for this recipe, like salmon, mackerel, or tuna. There’s nothing wrong with frying these fish into fish sticks, but I personally just prefer a milder fish. I suspect my children would, too.
- Second, and more importantly, think about texture. You want a fish that is firm and won’t fall apart when sliced and fried.
This is why cod is the standard for fish sticks and what I use. If you use something like tilapia, it will have a mild flavor, but is a pretty delicate fish and can break apart more easily.
If you’re in doubt and can’t find cod, ask your butcher counter or fishmonger for help to find a white fish that will fry up nicely.
MASTER THE SHALLOW FRY
The trick to making this recipe in 30 minutes is to master the shallow fry. Fish cook quickly and there’s no reason to heat up a big pot of oil for deep frying unless you are making a boatload of these.
To do the shallow fry, I add a few cups of oil to a wide skillet over medium-high heat. That will heat up fast!
Test the oil by tossing in a few spare breadcrumbs. They should sizzle and float immediately. Then fry the fish for about 5 to 6 minutes total, flipping them halfway through.
Mastering the shallow fry is actually something I recommend all home cooks try to do because it limits the oil you need to use, heats up faster, and makes clean up easier.
Safety note: If you are cooking around children, make sure to keep them clear of the splatter zone around the stove.
The DAD ADD: Chili Malt Vinegar!
If you’ve ever had classic fish and chips at any legit chips spot, you know you eat them with malt vinegar. I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me in my life to try, and immediately embrace, the concept of vinegar with fried foods.
It’s truly wonderful though and this chili oil addition adds a spicy element that makes it even better. Personally, I like Sun Luck brand Chili Oil which is pretty easily available at most grocery stores in the Asian foods section.
THE REPORT CARD
What you are looking at in this photo is documented evidence that my two-year old daughter eats food. She can be such a terrible eater that I find myself actually shocked when she eats something. Like these fish sticks! She totally loved them, and by that I mean she ate half of one.
After all, I mean, what’s not to love? They are crispy, mild flavored sticks that you can dip in sauce. They just might be the perfect kid food!
My four-year old also crushed these and has requested them a few times now. High fives all around, right?!
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