Fish sticks are one of many breaded, tasty frozen foods that make the world go round with their convenience and versatility. A seafood version of chicken tenders or mozzarella sticks, they elicit a variety of reactions, from appreciation to disgust. Some people are weirded out by the concept of frozen fish, while others feel that fish sticks are a quick and easy way to enjoy seafood without actually cooking a fish fillet.
The Origin of Fish Sticks
Whatever your take on fish sticks may be, their story is an interesting one, and they're come back to popularity during the covid-19 pandemic. Fish sticks were invented in 1953, by General Foods. Out of many stick-shaped foods, from eggplant sticks to ham sticks to lima bean sticks, fish sticks were the only ones that made it. Although they work well as a convenient and cost-effective snack, fish sticks originally solved a much larger problem.
In the '50s, advances in technology allowed the fishing industry to catch way more fish than ever before, using stronger and bigger boats and materials. Fisherman suddenly had way more fish than they knew what to do with, so they began freezing it in large amounts. At first, the fishing industry tried to sell giant chunks of frozen fish, with the idea that people could chop off the amount of fish they wanted for the day. However, a giant block of frozen fish is unappetizing no matter how much you like seafood, and the "fish bricks" didn't sell well.
After this failure, they started cutting the bricks into sticks using an X-ray machine to remove bones and cut into standardized pieces. The fish was then dipped into a flour and egg mixture, breaded, and deep fried. The total time of this process is only about 20 minutes, and the fish sticks are then ready to be sold! The fish sticks solution not only kept an amazing amount of fish from going bad, it resulted in an extremely popular snack!
Fish Sticks Today
In 1953, 3.4 million kilograms of fish sticks was produced, and the next year it was 4 million! This popularity was due to many reasons, not least of which the ease and convenience of these frozen snacks. Fish sticks are made of white fish like cod, hake, haddock or pollock, and they're a great source of calcium, potassium and vitamin A.
These snacks are also popular because of their mild taste; they have only a faint fish flavor, making them popular even among those who don't typically eat fish. Colloquially called "the ocean's hot dogs," they're served as casseroles, with mashed potatoes, or as a protein-filled snack. Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, the demand for these quick and easy snacks has risen significantly, by as much as 50 percent in some countries!
Along with being a beloved convenience food, these sticks of breaded fish are part of our pop culture. There's a whole South Park episode about the term, and they've even been featured in art exhibits. For Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday, she was served a gourmet, expensive sandwich that included fish sticks.
Enjoy Your Own Fish Sticks
To have these breaded snacks for dinner, first preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Bake on a baking sheet for about ten minutes, starting out with a layer of foil on top to avoid sogginess. Take your fish sticks out when they're golden brown and crispy, and put them on a paper towel to catch any grease.
There are also plenty of homemade fish sticks recipes, most with minimal prep time and cook time. Although this takes away from the amazing convenience of frozen food, making them from scratch results in a fresher, crispier result. You can use any a tilapia, halibut, catfish, or cod fillet- or essentially any white fish for that matter. Flavor your sticks with parmesan, lemon juice, kosher salt, black pepper or paprika. As for the breading, use panko bread crumbs, whole wheat, or all purpose flour, whichever you have on hand! These can also be made gluten-free by substituting gluten free flour instead.
To make extra crispy fish sticks, fry them in the air fryer. If you're going the traditional route by frying, you can use olive oil or vegetable oil depending on your preferences. As for the sauce, some go for simplicity by using ketchup, but homemade tartar sauce and Dijon mustard sauce are also popular options. Make fish tacos with your fish sticks or enjoy their deliciousness on their own! Here's a yummy recipe.