Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Teach him how to make fish sticks and he can impress the heck out of his kids.
My dad is an outdoorsy guy. His favorite way to relax is hiking the Pacific Northwest back-country with his, decades old, pack and a brother or two by his side. As a child I was fascinated by all the gear he kept, especially for overnight treks. In the days before a backpacking trip he hauled his gear out of the deep dark basement and assembled it for inspection. His equipment had the familiar musk of damp basement, dried sweat, iodine tablets, and trail grit. I used to bury my face deep into the rough fabrics and imagine alpine meadows and snow melt streams.
Among the bits and pieces he would eventually tuck into his pack, my favorite was the fishing gear. Every time he pulled his fishing gear out my sister and I were told not to touch. Every time we didn’t listen. The lures and bait drew us in like flies to honey (or fish to worms). It’s a wonder it didn’t attract more fish. He had a really cool fishing pole with three telescoping pieces that came apart for storage or easy packing. The handle was a soft brown foam that we probably picked bare in more than one spot, we just couldn’t keep our hands off.
The tackle box was a wonder unto itself. He had a big one for all the bait with a small version to tuck into his backpack. The little vials of florescent eggs seemed like amazing science projects waiting to happen. I giggled over the squishy rubber worms letting them wriggle around between my fingers. Like any accessory loving little girl I was mesmerized by the flashy lures. It was hard to believe that Dad had such a magnificent collection of feathers and attractive metal bits hidden away in a dirty old tool box. If not for the barbed hooks, or fear of losing t.v. privileges, I might have “borrowed” the most elaborate lures for my dress-up play.
Dad also brought his backpacking pole along on family day hikes. As you might guess, the best part of fishing was picking the bait. Dad would point out the appropriate type of bait but we usually ignored his advice in favor of the one that looked the prettiest. This was one of the few times he indulged our whims. With the line taught and the bait ready, he tried to coach us through the steps to hook a big one, but we never developed the proper technique. On the rare occasion we caught anything besides reeds or sticks, the squirmy little trout were immediately released back into their lake. It was never really about the fish anyway.
Fast forward several decades and I have two curious little boys of my own. I’ll leave it to Dad to teach my kids to fish. In the mean time I can teach them to make their own fish sticks. Between the two of us, we’ll all eat happily ever after.
- 1½ pounds of cod or similar firm white fish
- 250 grams of lightly salted tortilla chips
- ½ cup flour
- 1 large lemon, zest and fruit
- 1½ teaspoons dry dill (see note for fresh herbs)
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup low fat milk
- Set the stage for your recipe: Set your oven racks in the upper and low thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Lay the cod on a paper towel lined plate and pat dry.
- Cut the fish into pieces roughly 1½ x 2½ inches each. Leave the fish to the side to come to room temperature while preparing the ingredients for the coating.
- Crush the tortilla chips into tiny flakes and crumbs. This can be done with a food processor in two or three batches or by placing the chips into a clean bag and whacking them with a rolling pin or similar sturdy tool. The first is fast the second is fun - you choose. Pour the crushed chips into a shallow wide dish such as an 8x8 baking pan.
- In a second shallow wide dish combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, dill, salt, and pepper.
- In a medium bowl add the eggs and milk then beat lightly to combine.
- Set your work area so you can easily reach all three coating dishes and the parchment lined baking sheets.
- Use one or two forks and clean hands to dip the fish into each mixture. Try to keep one hand dry to pat on the final chip crust and transfer the pieces to the baking sheet.
- Place a piece of fish into the flour mixture and turn it several times so all sides are dusted. Use a fork to dip the flour coated piece into the eggs so it is evenly coated you want it moist but not soggy and drippy. Place the fish on a bed of tortilla chips. Give the pan a couple of shakes and use your clean hand to pat the crumbs on to all the sides, rolling it as needed. Place the coated fish on the pan. Repeat until all the fish is coated.
- Arrange the coated pieces on the baking sheet with a few inches between each piece so they cook evenly.
- Place one pan per oven rack and bake for 10 minutes then move the pans to the opposite rack and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes until the largest piece reaches 145 degrees in the center or is bright white and flaky all the way through.
- Serve hot with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.