I could bread and fry a piece of paper and I would probably eat it. The treatment makes just about anything taste appealing, and it's the only way I can get my kids to eat fish. Although fish sticks were a part of my eighties childhood (before you judge, I ate them at a friend's house), the mushy sticks of questionable origin haven't made it onto my dinner table.
I thought a homemade version, with a crunchy coating on the outside and a mild, firm centre, could win my kids over, so the challenge to my mother was to concoct an easy version of fried fish. Her delicious rendition surpassed expectations. She nixed the standard coating of flour, egg and bread crumbs, which produces great-looking results but often creates an air pocket inside the coating, leaving the fish overcooked before it has a chance to brown. Instead, she favours a brief soak in buttermilk then a roll in panko, Japanese breadcrumbs that can be found at most grocery stores. Giving those a whirl in the food processor (or coffee grinder, or even a good blender) makes them stick much better to the buttermilk-soaked fish.
We call for firm, white fish in this recipe, which is not an official category of fish but includes halibut, haddock, cod, striped bass and snapper. We liked haddock, but feel free to try different fishes depending on availability and price. If you are aiming for sustainability, shopping for fish can be confusing. Some grocery stores offer sustainable options listed by Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise or certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Your fishmonger should be able to tell you what is a "best choice" fish to purchase, or you can reference the downloadable card from the not-for-profit SeaChoice or the Ocean Wise app. Kristin Donovan, owner of the sustainable-fish store Hooked in Toronto and Halifax, recommends Pacific cod, lake fish such as pickerel or hook-and-line-caught haddock.
Try serving these easy fish sticks with a homemade tartar sauce and roasted sweet potatoes – a much healthier fish and chips dinner. The crispy fish can also be the star filling on taco night.
2 cups panko or 1 cup dried bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 6-oz (175-g) pieces cod, haddock, striped sea bass or red snapper, skinned
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Sweet Potato Chips
1 large sweet potato, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp relish or finely chopped pickles
1 tsp finely chopped capers
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Fish sticks: Pulse panko in a food processor until powdery. You should have about 1 cup. Transfer crumbs to a dish and season with salt and pepper. If you are using dried bread crumbs, skip the food-processor step.
Place buttermilk in a shallow dish. Season well with salt and pepper. (You can add seasonings if you wish – paprika, dill, Middle Eastern spices – but we like them plain.)
Cut fish into batons about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Dip fish into buttermilk. Dip each side into panko and shake off any excess.
Add oil to a non-stick skillet and place over medium heat. Working in batches, cook fish sticks until golden brown on all sides and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Notes: I was always a believer in baking fish sticks to cut down on fat, but I could never get the fish brown enough. I tried shallow frying using very little oil and they looked like they came out of the package, which is what kids usually want. If you do want to bake them, cook for about 5 minutes at 400 F and flip halfway through.
Sweet potato chips: Preheat oven to 400 F.
Slice sweet potato into batons 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. Toss with oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cornstarch over and toss to coat.
Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until chips are browned and tender.
Notes: We toss the chips in cornstarch to help keep them crisp, as sweet potatoes can be a little damp.