Something you may not have known about me: I spent my entire education in Catholic school. Starting in kindergarten and going all the way through college graduation… that’s 17 years, if you’re keeping track. That meant things like uniforms and not having to go to CCD on Sundays. It also meant spending every single elementary school Friday night during Lent in the school gymnasium at the fish fry. My parents always volunteered… my friends’ parents always volunteered… it was a big party, everyone had fun and went home smelling like fried fish. Good times.
While picky little me would turn my nose up at just about any seafood, there was one thing I would agree to eat – fish sticks. This is most likely due to the fact that they were breaded and crunchy and I could dunk them into an obscene amount of tartar sauce. Fish sticks and potato-and-cheese pierogi became my de facto Friday meals during Lent.
The fish sticks I had as a kid were always frozen from a box, which was fine, but I’ve discovered that homemade fish sticks can be prepared in practically no time at all and taste approximately one bazillion times better. Throw in some homemade tartar sauce and you have a meal that can rival even the most popular fish fry in town.
Buy the best cod you can find (substitute flounder if you’d like), then cut it into “sticks” and do a traditional three-step dredging with flour, egg and bread crumbs. Throw a little oil into a pan, and get them nice and golden brown on all sides. That’s it! Done! The outside is super crunchy and the cod is wonderfully flaky.
I haven’t been able to quit my fried fish and tartar sauce habit, but this time I made the sauce from scratch. It was fantastic, and quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. Don’t skip it!
If you’ve ever liked fish sticks, these are going to knock your socks off. And if you were never a fan, I guarantee these will make a convert out of you!
1. Make the Tartar Sauce: Stir together all of the tartar sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
2. Prepare the Fish Sticks: Place the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs in three separate shallow bowls. Working in batches, dredge the cod in flour, shaking off the excess. Then, dip in the egg, letting any excess run off. Finally, coat with the panko breadcrumbs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all of the pieces of cod have been breaded.
[DO AHEAD: At this point, the baking sheet can be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Alternatively, you can place the baking sheet in the freezer, and once the fish sticks are completely frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe resealable plastic bag and freeze for up to 3 months. The fish sticks can be cooked directly from the freezer, however the cooking time will increase slightly.]
3. Pour enough vegetable oil into a large skillet to cover the bottom (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet) and place over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, fry the fish sticks in batches (don't overcrowd the pan), turning them so that they evenly brown, about 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer the fish sticks to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.
Baking Alternative: If you prefer baked fish sticks, you can bake the prepared sheet of fish sticks in a 450-degree oven until the fish is cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes, turning once during baking. To facilitate browning, spray the fish sticks with non-stick cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil before baking.