These homemade fish sticks are made with cod strips, covered with a well-seasoned coating, and oven-baked for a crunchy finger food perfect for dipping into a homemade tartar sauce.
Fish sticks are incredibly easy to make and baked in the oven or air-fryer for a crispy coating while keeping the fish nice and tender on the inside.
Frozen fish sticks have deep roots in New England and have been a popular convenience food since the 1950s. For those who lived away from the ocean, frozen fish was a step above canned, dried, and salted fish.
As we know them today in the United States, fish sticks were developed and popularized by two inventors, Clarence Birdseye and Earl Robert Kinney.
Clarence Birdseye is considered the founder of the frozen food industry in the United States. His experimenting with preserving food began in the early 1900s and evolved to quick freeze machines as a way to preserve food.
In the 1950s, native Mainer Earl Robert “Bob” Kinney owned a fish and food processing cannery business called the North Atlantic Packing Company in Bar Harbor, Maine. Kinney eventually became vice president at Gorton’s Seafood Company of Massachusetts, where he further developed the idea of frozen fish sticks. Through marketing, Gorton’s Seafood Company made fish sticks a popular convenience food.
Homemade Fish Sticks are a Healthier Alternative
The fish sticks you purchase at the grocery store are made from frozen blocks of minced white fish left over from the filleting process. They are made by cutting up slabs of frozen cod, flounder, and other white fish into sticks that are breaded, pre-cooked, and frozen for quick reheating at home.
The problem with the commercial fish sticks is they are pretty bland, dry, and can include lots of salt and mystery ingredients. I reluctantly ate them as a child during Lent but smothered them in lots of ketchup as I dreamed of the homemade pizzas we usually enjoyed on Fridays.
Unlike the commercial version found in many frozen food sections, homemade fish sticks offer a healthier and more flavorful option. Here are some of the benefits:
- Crispy Coating without Deep Frying: The irresistible crispy coating on homemade fish sticks is achieved by dipping the fish into flour, egg, and seasoned Panko breadcrumbs. This technique creates a satisfying crunch without frying in oil.
- Better Flavor: Starting with whole fish and seasoning the Panko breadcrumbs with paprika, parsley, salt, and pepper adds a burst of flavor that elevates homemade fish sticks to a whole new level. This infusion of seasonings enhances the taste experience, making each bite a delightful blend of crispy texture and savory goodness.
- Lower Fat Content: Commercial fish sticks are often deep-fried in oil, which can lead to higher saturated fat content. In contrast, homemade fish sticks are prepared with no added fat, making them a leaner option.
- Reduced Caloric Intake: Baking, instead of frying, helps control calorie content. Homemade fish sticks provide a more calorie-conscious choice by avoiding the excess oil absorption associated with deep-frying.
By starting with whole fish and seasoning the breadcrumbs, homemade fish sticks combine great taste with nutritional benefits, making them a wholesome and delicious choice for those looking to enjoy a classic favorite with a healthier and more flavorful twist. Plus, it is a great way to get kids to eat fish.
Ingredients for Fish Sticks
These homemade fish sticks are like night and day compared to the commercial version. They are oven baked instead of fried. The delicious crispy coating is achieved by dipping the fish into flour, egg, and seasoned Panko breadcrumbs.
- Cod Fish Fillet: This fish sticks recipe is made with whole cod fillets. While cod is a great choice for making baked fish sticks, any firm white fish such as haddock, halibut, tilapia, or pollock will work. You can use fresh or frozen fish. Thaw frozen fish overnight in the refrigerator and pat dry before using.
- Flour: This recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but you can substitute any flour, including any gluten-free flour. The flour provides a light coating and helps the egg stick to the fish.
- Eggs: The eggs help keep the fish moist and provide the glue to hold the breadcrumb coating.
- Panko Coating: Finally, panko bread crumbs combined with a bit of cornmeal give the fish sticks an extra crunchy exterior without frying. You can substitute regular bread crumbs for the Panko or use gluten-free panko bread crumbs.
- Seasonings: The breadcrumbs are seasoned with paprika, parsley, salt and pepper. Feel free to add other seasonings for extra flavor, such as old bay seasoning, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, chili powder, or lemon pepper.
- Simple Tartar Sauce: It’s easy to whip up a quick homemade tartar sauce using ingredients you probably already have in your refrigerator. All you need is mayonnaise, pickles or relish, a little sugar, parsley or dill, salt, and pepper. Our favorite tartar sauce is made from home canned sweet and sour pickles, but you can use dill pickles if you prefer a dill tartar sauce.
Steps to Make Homemade Baked Fish Sticks
Making fish sticks from scratch gives you full control over the ingredients so you can feel good about serving them to your family. Whole fish fillet is cut into strips, tossed with well-seasoned Panko breadcrumbs, and baked in the oven for a crispy coating and a moist, tender, and flaky interior.
These fish sticks are delicious with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and dipped into a simple tartar sauce. Serve with oven-baked fries, roasted vegetables, baked onion rings, or a salad to round out the meal.
The detailed print-friendly recipe with ingredient measurements can be found at the bottom of this article, but these are the general steps for making homemade baked fish sticks:
Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients
Unwrap the fish, rinse, and pat dry with clean paper towels. Look it over carefully for stray bones, and cut the fish fillets into 1-inch strips.
Fill three medium bowls with the breading ingredients:
- Bowl 1: Add the flour, pepper, salt, and combine.
- Bowl 2: Crack the eggs into the second bowl and whisk to scramble lightly.
- Bowl 3: Combine the Panko breadcrumbs, cornmeal, dried parsley, and paprika.
Step 2: Bread the Fish Sticks
Drop each fish strip into the flour bowl and coat completely with flour. Remove the fish from the flour, drop it into the egg, and flip to coat each side.
Press the fish into the Panko breadcrumb mixture, coat completely, and place it on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining fish pieces.
Step 3: Bake the Fish Sticks
Bake the prepared fish in a preheated oven until crispy. Flip them over about halfway through so that each side browns evenly. Thin fish fillets will cook quicker.
Air Fryer Fish Sticks: You may be wondering if these fish sticks can be cooked in an air fryer. The answer is YES, you can air fry homemade fish sticks. You will need to do it in several batches, one layer at a time:
- Preheat the air fryer for 5 minutes at 400˚F.
- Place the prepared fish sticks on the air-fryer basket in one layer, leaving a little space between each piece.
- Place the basket in the preheated air fryer and cook for 10 to 14 minutes or until crispy and golden.
- Check halfway through and give the basket a shake to flip so it cooks evenly.
- Repeat with the remaining breaded fish sticks.
Step 4: Make the Tartar Sauce
Combine the mayonnaise, chopped pickles, onions, pickle juice, parsley, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
Serve the fish sticks warm with a squeeze of fresh lemon, and homemade tartar sauce.
Serving Ideas for Fish Sticks
While fish sticks are delicious with a simple tartar sauce dip, they can become the centerpiece of exciting and satisfying meals when paired with complementary sides and toppings.
Whether you’re looking for a classic fish and chips combo or a unique twist on presentation, here are some tips for ways to serve homemade fish sticks and what goes well with them:
- Classic Fish Stick Platter: Serve the fish sticks on a platter with various dipping sauces, including barbecue sauce, ketchup, ranch dressing, honey mustard, and hot sauce, to cater to different tastes. Add a wedge of fresh lemon for a zesty squeeze over the fish sticks. Garnish with fresh parsley or dill for a pop of color and flavor.
- Fish Stick Sandwiches: Stuff a few fish sticks in a soft New England hot dog bun or a sub roll. Add lettuce, tomato slices, and red onion rings for a fish stick sandwich. Top with tartar sauce or your favorite condiments for a satisfying meal.
- Fish Stick Tacos: Fill homemade taco sized flour tortillas with fish sticks. Top with shredded cabbage or coleslaw for crunch. Drizzle with a creamy sauce or spicy mayo for a taco twist.
- Fish Stick Salad: Create a salad by placing fish sticks on a bed of mixed greens. Add cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and red bell pepper strips. Dress with a homemade Italian vinaigrette or ranch dressing for a refreshing option.
- Fish and Chips: Serve fish sticks alongside homemade French fries. Sprinkle with vinegar or your preferred dipping sauce for a classic fish and chips experience.
- Fish Stick Appetizer Platter: Use mini fish sticks or cut regular-sized ones into bite-sized pieces. Arrange them on a platter or decretive dish with toothpicks for easy snacking. Serve with an assortment of dipping sauces, such as sriracha mayo, sweet and sour sauce, or honey mustard.
- Fish Stick Sliders: Make fish sliders by placing fish sticks on homemade mini rolls. Add your choice of toppings like cheese, coleslaw, or pickles. Secure with toothpicks for a fun and flavorful snack.
Feel free to mix and match these serving ideas to create a diverse fish stick menu that suits your preferences and those of your guests. Enjoy your homemade fish sticks in creative and delicious ways!
Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days or frozen for longer storage. Let the cooked fish sticks cool for about 20 to 30 minutes before storing them to help prevent condensation inside the storage container, which can make them soggy.
- Refrigerator Storage: Place the fish sticks in an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I like to line my containers with paper towels to absorb excess moisture so the coating doesn’t get soggy.
- Freezing Fish Sticks: Lay the cooked fish sticks in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, place the sheet into the freezer, and freeze until solid, about an hour. Then, transfer the fish sticks to airtight containers or freezer bags. Label and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Reheating Leftover Fish Sticks
An oven, toaster oven, or air fryer is the best way to maintain crispiness when reheating. If you are reheating from frozen, don’t thaw before reheating; add an extra 5 minutes to the bake time.
- Oven Method: Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the leftover fish sticks on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a wire rack to allow air circulation. Heat for about 10 minutes or until they are hot and crispy. You can flip them halfway through to ensure even heating.
- Air Fryer Method: Preheat the air fryer to 350°F (175°C). Arrange the leftover fish sticks in a single layer in the air fryer basket. Reheat for about 4 to 6 minutes, checking periodically until they are hot and crispy.
Remember that reheating fish sticks too many times can lead to a loss of quality, so it’s best to reheat only the amount you plan to consume in one sitting. Enjoy your reheated fish sticks with your favorite dipping sauce!
Crunchy Baked Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce
- 1 pound skinless cod fillets haddock, pollock, or other firm white fish
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley or 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 fresh lemon optional
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons chopped pickles and onions or pickle relish
- 1 teaspoon pickle juice
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley or dill
- salt and pepper to taste
Prep the Ingredients
- Cut the fish fillets into 1-inch strips.
- Bowl 1: Add the flour, pepper and salt and mix to combine.
- Bowl 2: Crack the eggs into the bowl and scramble just until combined.
- Bowl 3: Combine the panko breadcrumbs, cornmeal, dried parsley, and paprika.
- Preheat oven to 400˚F, and spray two large baking sheets with cooking spray or layer with parchment paper.
Bread the Fish Sticks
- Drop each fish strip into the flour bowl and coat completely with flour.
- Remove from the flour and drop into the egg mixture. Flip to coat entirely.
- Press it into the Panko breadcrumb mixture and coat completely.
- Carefully remove the breaded fish strip without shaking off the coating, and place it on the prepared baking sheet.
- Repeat with the remaining fish placing each one on the baking sheet without touching each other.
Oven Bake the Fish Sticks
- Bake the breaded fish in a preheated oven until crispy, about 10 to 14 minutes for pieces that are 1-inch thick. Thinner fish fillets will cook quicker. Flip them over about halfway through so that each side browns evenly.
Air Fryer Fish Sticks
- Preheat the air fryer for 5 minutes at 400˚F, and set the timer to 14 minutes.
- Place the prepared fish sticks in one layer on the air-fryer basket leaving a little space in between each piece.
- Place in the preheated air fryer and cook for 10 to 14 minutes, or until crispy and golden.
- Check half way and give the basket a shake to flip so they cook evenly. Repeat with the remaining breaded fish sticks.
Make the Tartar Sauce
- In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chopped pickles, onions, pickle juice, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Use within 3 days.
- Serve the fish sticks warm with a squeeze of fresh lemon, your favorite dipping sauce, ketchup, or tartar sauce.
Sources and Further Reading:
- “Clarance Birdseye: A Chilling Discovery.” Entrepreneur
- “How It’s Made Frozen Fish Products.” Hows It’s Made
- Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World
- “Maine native who created fish sticks, went on to run General Mills, E. Robert Kinney, dead at 96.” Bangor Daily News
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