Romancing the Fish (Sticks)

 or how to persuade even the pickiest of eaters to enjoy seafood at home

I know, I know, this is not exactly a "Valentine's Day" type of post (despite its reference to romance in the title, we all know fish sticks are not a universally romantic type of food - though I'm sure a few five year olds out there might disagree).  I don't expect to convince everyone to fully embrace the concept of homemade fish sticks, but I do hope to win a few of you over with my offering here.  

Fish has many physical health benefits, and just as many mental health benefits, but many people stray away at the risk of encountering a ":fishy" taste in their food.  Well, the easy answer to that is this - most fresh fish will not taste "fishy," so buy something fresh from the counter instead of packaged in the case.  To take it one step further, many of the fish-opposed variety will indulge in beer battered, deep fried fish, which carries with it as many health risks as it does benefits.  So let's find a mid-way point to help this group transition shall we?  We'll use fresh ingredients, healthier alternatives to traditionally high fat components, a delicious (albeit different) cooking technique, and a shout out to the universal childhood finger food that is frozen fish sticks.  Sound like a plan?  Well check it out:

1 pound of cod filets
House seasoning blend
½ cup flour + 2 tbsp
2 eggs
2 tbsp olive oil mayonnaise
1 cup of Panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt
Butter-flavored spray

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray your baking pan with cooking spray.

1.  First for the lay out: Place 1/2 cup of the flour in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, whisk together the eggs and mayonnaise until combined, then whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Spread the bread crumbs in a third shallow dish.  Good?  Ok, let’s get going.

2.  Slice each cod fillet into 1” wide strips, for me this usually results in 2-3 strips per fillet but it will depend on the size.  Sprinkle some house seasoning blend over the fish.

3.  Now dredge each strip in the flour and gently shake off the excess, you don't want bits of fish taking flight over the kitchen. Next coat with the egg mixture, then hold for a moment over the dish allowing the extra to drip off.  Finally cover all sides with a thick layer of the bread crumbs, pressing to help them adhere. Lay the cod on the prepared baking sheet

4.  Spray the tops of the cod with butter flavored spray and season lightly with kosher salt.  Bake until lightly browned, about 15 - 20 minutes, and the thickest part is cooked to 140 degrees F
Alternate step 4 - if you need to take baby steps into the fish world - fry
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange half the fish sticks in a single layer without crowding; cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove fish sticks from skillet, and transfer to a serving dish. Wipe out pan and repeat with remaining oil and fish. Serve fish sticks, hot or at room temperature, with tartar sauce.

Now for my secret weapon - a sweet and tangy homemade tartar sauce.  I highly recommend McClure's Relish for this, but it is a company local to Michigan so it may be hard to come across elsewhere.  If you can find a relish, like McClure's,  that has the pickles sliced into more of a strip shape rather than a cube it will really add to the uniqueness of this condiment.  Traditional tartar sauces are made with sweet relish, so adding the spicy and garlic relish instead will really make it stand on its own two feet (so to speak).

Tartar Sauce with a Kick
1 - cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 tbsp spicy relish
1 tbsp garlic relish
1 - tablespoon dried minced onion
2- tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, relish, and minced onion. Stir in lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

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