I’m sure there were kids in the Midwest in the 1960s who ate all kinds of great seafood. Maybe they went “fishing” with their parents (look it up, it’s a real thing!) and ate what they caught. Or perhaps they were urban sophisticates who experienced fine dining early in their lives. I was not one of those kids. The combination of non-cooking mom and picky-eating kid meant my experience with fish was strictly this:
How my mother ever got me to eat these I have no idea but I ate them regularly throughout my childhood and learned to “cook” them myself relatively early on. I actually liked them and looked forward to them. They were as uniform and predictable as a Katherine Heigl rom-com and they usually turned out just like they look on the package. I did not, however, eat the tartar sauce — that was asking too much of my limited culinary courage. Ketchup worked just fine.
I’m sure there are kids (and adults) still eating them quite happily. If you are one of them I ask you to try, just try, making them from scratch. Like many convenience foods we consume without a second thought, it’s probably easier than you think and quite delicious. And this is the kind of dish Cook’s Country was born to take on.
Start with some cod fillets (or haddock, halibut or catfish. I used cod. Have you seen the price of halibut?) Pat dry, season and cut into stick shapes as best you can. You will then dip them, in order, into flour, egg mixed with mayo, and a saltine/breadcrumb mixture. Then a quick saute in some vegetable oil and you’re done. The tartar sauce is just mayo, minced pickles with a little pickle juice and some capers.
The hardest part was cutting the fillets into the classic stick shape; real fillets just don’t lend themselves to it. Unless the nice people at Gorton’s or Mrs. Paul’s are sourcing some kind of perfectly square breed of fish I think they’re cheating. There, I said it. For you, home cook, it doesn’t matter. Do your best and just try to get them to be similar in size and shape so they all cook at the same rate and you’ll be fine.
These are delicious and well worth making yourself. Completely do-able on a week night and maybe they will get your picky-eaters to try some fish. Yes, they can have ketchup with them. No, they can’t pick the breading off and leave the fish behind.
Crispy Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce are from the August/September 2007 issue of Cook’s Country.