When I was growing up, fish sticks were among my favorite things in the world. Right up there with KD and Corn Pops. But it’s been a long time since I indulged. Somewhere in my early teens, I lost interest in those golden sticks. I’m sure my long-suffering mother was delighted to see me move on – her freezer-burned nightmare was over. But I still think about those dinners fondly from time to time. I’m convinced they would not thrill me in the same way. But still, the format is compelling – chicken nuggets but make it fish. So my mission was clear, I had to make Grown-Up Fish Sticks and that’s exactly what I did.
Now, these Grown-Up Fish Sticks are not nearly as convenient as their freezer-bound predecessors. But there are a few places you can pause in this recipe and put the whole thing (literally) on ice. I call them meal-prep pitstops and don’t worry I will let you know when I spot each exit.
Having said all that, this recipe is not a monster. It will take you about 2 hours tip to tail, which my lockdown 2.0 life can afford. On top of that, nothing in this recipe is technically difficult. You do have to own a few pieces of equipment that might not be as commonplace in the average kitchen as they are in my own. But again, I will alert you to them. And aside from the mandatory food processor, none of the required equipment is particularly expensive. A reusable piping bag and a round tip? Pocket change. And think of all the cupcakes you can frost.
If you’re wondering what a piping tip has to do with fish sticks, you’re right to wonder. There’s no other way to say this – I’m going to ask you to do some weird shit in this recipe. But trust me, the fish sticks of your inner child’s dreams will be your reward. What do I mean by “weird shit”? Well, have you ever put pureed fish in a piping bag? Because you’re about to. And you know what? I think you’re going to enjoy it.
Yup! You’re going to puree some of the beautiful cod. Then you’re going to mix that with some diced cod, an egg yolk, and cornstarch. That is the innards of your Grown-Up Fish Sticks. I’m using top-notch ingredients but I have to stay true to the texture of the OG sticks.
Once you have your fish stick mixture ready for the piping, you’re going to do just that. Pipe out 12 sticks, roughly 2 1/2″ inches in length, onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Transfer the sheet to the freezer and let the sticks set up for about an hour. This is where you can pause and freeze your naked fish sticks until frozen, then pick them back up whenever you fancy. Just don’t forget to transfer them to a freezer bag once they’re frozen solid. But if you’re keen to proceed, an hour is all you need. You can also bread and freeze your fish sticks solid at that point for a more “authentic” fish stick experience.
Once the hour is up, it’s a simple affair of breading the sticks. But you will have to work quickly. The more the sticks defrost, the harder they will be to work with. The breading is very straight forward – eggs, flour and cornstarch mixture, and a pile of panko breadcrumbs. I realize fish sticks are generally cooked in the oven, but you made your fish sticks from scratch, you deserve a little naughty. And that naughty comes in the form of a shallow fry. It’s only mildly evil, so don’t sweat it.
I served these Grown-Up Fish Sticks with a Preserved Lemon Tartar sauce. If you can’t get your hands on preserved lemon, just sub in some lemon zest and add a little salt too. Preserved lemons are preserved in salt, so if you do use the real deal, don’t bother seasoning your tartar sauce further – it will be salty enough – I promise.
Finally, I rounded out the meal with the usual suspects – oven fries and frozen peas. And yes, the fries came from a bag. I just made my own fish sticks, I’m done. The rest of the meal can be both convenient and nostalgic. But if you want to go the extra mile with some gourmet sides, you have my blessing. I always encourage culinary ambition, no matter the stakes or lack thereof.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Grown-Up Fish Sticks with Preserved Lemon Tartar Sauce. These bad boys feed your nostalgia in the best way possible. They taste better than any stick you could fish out of the freezer and they’re oddly fun to make.
Grown-Up Fish Sticks with Preserved Lemon Tartar Sauce
- Large Piping Bag
- A Large Round Piping Tip (I used an Ateco 808)
- Food Processor
- 1 large cod fillet Cut into quarters
- 1 large egg yolk
- ½ cup + 1 tbsp cornstarch divided
- 1 tsp salt divided
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs beaten
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Preserved Lemon Tartar Sauce
- 1 cup mayo
- 1 dill pickle finely diced
- 1 preserved lemon flesh removed, rind thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 tbsp fresh mint finely chopped
- 1 tbsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp honey
For the Tartar Sauce
- Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
For the Fish Sticks
- Place the 3 quarters of the cod in a large food processor and blitz until smooth. Retain the meatiest quarter of the cod and give it a small dice.
- Transfer the puree and diced cod to a large bowl. Add the egg yolk, half of the salt and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Stir to combine.
- Place the cod mixture in a large piping bag fitted with a 1" round piping tip (I used an Ateco 808 tip). Pipe the cod mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in 2 ½" long logs. You should have around 12. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 1 hour.
- Once the hour has passed, whisk to combine the flour and remaining cornstarch in a large bowl. Whisk to combine the panko and the remaining salt and pour the mixture into a large pie plate.
- Working with one stick at a time, roll the fish sticks in the flour/cornstarch mixture, followed by the beaten eggs, followed by the panko mixture. Return the breaded fish sticks to the baking sheet and continue until you run out of sticks.
- Heat 1 ½" of neutral oil (I used canola oil) in a large skillet until small bubbles break the surface. Working in batches, fry the fish sticks until golden on both sides – about 2-3 minutes per side.
- Transfer the fried fish sticks to a cooling rack over a baking sheet and sprinkle with finishing salt. Serve immediately with oven fries, peas, and the Preserved Lemon Tartar Sauce on the side for dipping.