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
My daughter 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?!
More Kid-Friendly Recipes
- Sheet Pan Fish and Chips
- Cheesy Baked Hot Dogs
- Pepperoni Pizza Penna Pasta
- Broccoli Cheddar Quesadillas
- Herbed Tomato Chicken Tenders with Tomato Sauce
Crispy Panko Fish Sticks
- For the quick tartar sauce:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup minced pickles, about two small pickles diced
- Juice from 1/2 lemon
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- DAD ADD: Chili Malt Vinegar
- 1/4 cup malt vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chili oil
- For the fish fingers:
- 1 pound firm, skinless white fish, such as cod, pollack, or haddock (ask the fishmonger to skin the fish, if needed)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs, whisked
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
Make the tartar sauce:
Stir together the mayonnaise, pickles, and lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, taste, and add more seasonings if you like.
I like my tartar sauce very chunky. Use fewer pickles if you like or substitute up to half of the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt if you want to reduce calories in the dip. This dip will keep well in the fridge, covered, for at least a week.
Make the chili malt vinegar:
Stir the malt vinegar and chili oil together in a small bowl. You can use the mix as a dip for fish sticks or French fries or also lightly brush it on freshly fried fish sticks.
Cut and season the fish:
To prep the fish, first make sure fish has no bones. I usually just run my hands along the filet and you will be able to feel any bones that might be there. If you do find some, you can use a pair of clean tweezers to pluck them out.
Cut the fish into strips about 3 inches long strips and 1/2-inch thick. Season fish strips well with salt and pepper.
Coat the fish:
Place the flour, whisked eggs, and panko crumbs in three separate bowls. Set a baking sheet nearby.
First, toss fish with all-purpose flour to coat. Shake off any extra flour. Then transfer fish to eggs. Coat well. Finally, move to panko breadcrumbs and really press the breadcrumbs on the fish so they have a good crust.
Transfer the coated fingers to the baking sheet. Let the fish sticks rest while you heat the oil.
Heat the oil:
Over medium heat, heat enough oil in a skillet to fill the the skillet about 1 1/2- to 2-inches deep. (I use about two cups of oil in my large skillet.) The oil doesn’t need to completely cover the fish sticks.
The oil is ready when you can add a few breadcrumbs and they sizzle immediately and float to the top.
Fry the fish sticks:
When oil is hot, add fish sticks in a single layer in the skillet without crowding the skillet. You will probably need to cook in two batches.
Fry for 3 minutes, after which the fish sticks should be nicely browned on the underside and can be flipped. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes on the second side. Then remove and let cool on a few paper towels while you cook the second batch.
Serve fish sticks while warm along with tartar sauce and chili malt vinegar, if using. If you make the fish sticks in advance, reheat them in a 350°F oven for a few minutes until they are warmed through.