The idea for turning this dinner into a recipe to share occurred to me the first time we made it for our son Zane, and my husband Ben told him they were the best fish sticks he would ever have. Although the same shape as the fish sticks we bake off in a pinch, especially when we are going out to dinner and need a quick meal for Z, they’re really in a different league altogether than their frozen counterparts. And while they take a little extra hands-on effort, the total time is no more than it takes to oven bake frozen fish sticks. And the results of this freshly fried version? Undoubtedly worth it.
Zane’s inaugural tasting was months ago, but I was reminded again of this recipe when I was describing a different fried dish to a friend. I said something like, “You know, it’s just a dry, wet, dry breading” and she looked at me with a blank stare. If you’re new to this method, its short title is apt – you dip the to-be-fried item in flour (dry), then egg (wet), then bread crumbs (dry). In this case, I used sliced pieces of cod and then pan fried them in a combination of butter and olive oil. They come out golden-brown and crispy with a milky white interior.
Sometimes we serve them with ketchup or some other dipping sauce, but just as often they make their way into tacos. Whether you call them fish sticks or fried fish, they’re always a hit among both kids and adults.
The Best Fish Sticks You’ll Ever Eat
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 c panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp salt + more for sprinkling
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional, or substitute with spice of choice)
1 1/2 lb fresh or thawed cod fillets
butter and oil, for frying
Put the flour, egg, and panko in three separate, shallow* bowls. Stir the 1/2 tsp salt and paprika, if using, into the panko. Cut the cod into 1-inch wide strips.
Take one piece of fish, toss it in the flour, then dip it in the egg, then roll it in the panko. Set it on a plate or baking sheet and repeat with the remaining fish. At this point you can move the fish to the fridge until ready to fry, or proceed immediately with frying.
Melt an equal amount of butter and oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat – enough so there is enough fat to come halfway up the sides of the fish sticks. Once hot, add the breaded fish, one at a time and in a single layer, working in batches as needed. Do not flip the fish until the first side is deeply golden brown, then flip and continue to fry until the second side is also browned. At this point I break one fish stick open to make sure it’s opaque all the way through (which I’ve never had a problem with) before transferring to a plate. Immediately after frying, sprinkle with a little more salt.
Serve alongside ketchup or tartar sauce, or serve as fish tacos in corn tortillas with cole slaw, fresh cilantro, and hot sauce.
*This is a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” The bowls pictured are not at all shallow, but one of our kitchen cabinets FELL OFF THE WALL, breaking most of its contents which included (among many other things) our shallow bowls. You can do this in a deep bowl but it is harder to get the fish coated.