These homemade fish sticks are made with strips of cod, 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 for a crispy coating while keeping the fish nice and tender on the inside.
Frozen fish sticks have deep roots in New England. Fish sticks 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.
Fish sticks, as we know them today in the United States was an idea 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 in Bar Harbor, Maine called the North Atlantic Packing Company. 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.
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 normally enjoyed on Fridays.
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 homemade version is made with pieces of whole cod fillet. While cod is a great choice for making baked fish sticks, but any firm white fish will work such as haddock, halibut, or pollock. You can use fresh or frozen fish, just 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 type of flour including gluten free. The flour provides a light coating and helps the egg stick to the fish.
- Eggs: The eggs help keep the fish moist and also provide the glue to hold the breadcrumb coating.
- Panko Coating: Finally, panko breadcrumbs combined with a bit of corn meal gives the fish sticks an extra crunchy exterior without frying. You can also substitute regular breadcrumbs for the Panko.
- Seasonings: The Panko breadcrumbs are seasoned with paprika, parsley, salt and pepper. Feel free to add other seasonings for extra flavor, such as garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, chili powder, or lemon pepper.
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 it to your family. Whole fish fillet is cut into strips, tossed with a 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 a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and dipped into a simple tartar sauce (recipe below). 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. Add the flour, pepper and salt and mix to combine in one bowl, crack the eggs into the second bowl and scramble lightly, and in the third bowl, 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 and drop into the egg and flip to coat each side.
Press the fish into the Panko breadcrumb mixture and 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.
Serve warm with a squeeze of fresh lemon, ketchup, or tartar sauce (recipe included below).
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, and set the timer to 15 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 15 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.
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 bread and butter pickles, but you can use dill pickles if you prefer a dill tartar 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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