More often than not, on the weekends ..
I find myself sleeping over a night at my daughter's house so she can pick up an extra shift at work. Sometimes it goes swimmingly and everybody sleeps through the night. Sometimes not-so-much and I find myself bargaining with a small child or a loud roommate.
“Lovely, it's the middle of the night. One day you too will need your beauty sleep .. “
Mostly though, I love the few minutes she and I spend together in the morning. It's still dark, the house is quiet. She's snuggling in for a nap; I'm thinking about breakfast.
“Mom, can you tell me a story?”
Throughout the week I try to think of a good one that she might not remember. Those of her dad from when she was little are her favorites, but next weekend? Next weekend I'm going to tell her about fish sticks.
(Somewhere in the '90s)
How? Why? Does one find oneself prepping homemade fish sticks on a hot summer day when there's a perfectly fine box of Van de Kamp's in the freezer?
It seemed so logical the week before when I made dinner plans with a friend. We lived in a neighborhood with plenty of great babysitters so I suggested they drop their kids off at our place while the four of us went out to a local pizza spot. I'll make sure the kids are happy and fed, I offered. “They like fish sticks, right?”
“It’s one of their favorite things”
It wasn't that I liked them more than our other friends. Well, maybe I did. Our husbands had known each other since college and they were two of the best story-tellers I'd ever met. My ribs hurt for days after laughing so long and so hard.
And maybe that's why, whenever they came to town, I found myself asking the man behind the dairy counter for recommendations. Splurging for honey goat cheese, a stinky bleu, and creamy brie instead of the familiar (yet beloved) cheddar for the cheese plate. Picking a sampler of interesting Iowa beers instead of whatever was on sale.
Do you have people in your life like this? Who you want to impress?
I mean, those who bring out the best in you? Everybody does, yes?
That's what I'd convinced myself of while whisking mustard into the eggs at 5 pm, carefully cutting the fish into picture-perfect strips, and pan-browning the bread crumbs. Cranking my oven up nearly as high as it would go – because apparently 10 out of 15 days over 90 degrees in Iowa hadn't been hot enough for me.
But, I have to say, forty-five minutes later, I did have a baking sheet piled high with the finest-looking homemade fish sticks anyone had ever seen. Along with two kinds of dipping sauce, four juice box flavors, and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. My son set the table.
So what if she herself wouldn't be eating them, they would see my fish magnum opus when they dropped the kids off and .. ? I stood in the kitchen wondering where all of this effort was leading me.
Five minutes later I got the call that they were running late. His mom was dropping off the kids and they would meet us at the restaurant. “Hope that's ok(!)”
Oh my, no. Nothing about this was ok. 🤦🏻♀️
(Except for the left-overs and a really fun night out)
“What's for dinner tonight?”
The universal question on everyone's mind. But not tonight. Because you're making homemade fish sticks. In just thirty minutes, you'll have fish coated with Japanese breadcrumbs and cooked to a crispy, golden brown.
A few tips?
Your sticks can definitely be prepped in advance. Just follow the instructions until they're coated in bread crumbs, then refrigerate. Pull them about 15 or 20 minutes before you want to serve, and continue with instructions.
For best results, start with firm, white fish fillets – halibut, cod, pollack, and catfish are all great. Thicker fillets will give you the best breading-to-fish ratio.
The bread crumbs become clumpy as they meet the eggy fish pieces, so add them in batches as you work, ensuring each piece of fish meets fresh, dry crumbs.
Look for gluten-free bread crumbs if you're avoiding gluten
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I followed Melissa Clark's recipe almost to the letter for this one. Truly, there's none better. The addition of mustard, along with browning the bread crumbs ahead of time, is the key.