• Stir It Up: Return of the fish stick
     | March 21,2014
    Photo by Myles New

    These crispy fish sticks with a chunky tartar sauce are a lighter version of the usual serving. They will convert those who think they don’t like fish, as well as delight fish lovers. The recipe and photo are from “A Lighter Way to Bake” by Lorraine Pascale.

    Fish, nearly everyone will tell you, is good for you. It’s high in protein and low in fat. It’s packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, even if many of us don’t understand exactly what they are.

    But there’s one thing that “nearly everyone” fails to acknowledge: Lots of people dislike fish.

    They have their reasons. Fish smells when you cook it. Some of it is high in mercury. It has a head/eyes/eyestalks. It has tiny bones. It is environmentally complicated.

    And then there’s the taste. “Fishy,” a friend says, wrinkling her nose. She might agree with humorist Dave Barry, who once wrote: “The only kind of seafood I trust is the fish stick, a totally featureless fish that doesn’t have eyeballs or fins. It just lies on the sea floor in a little rectangle, protecting itself with a thin layer of breading.”

    So, let’s bring back the fish stick. That’s what British chef and baker Lorraine Pascale has done in her new book, “A Lighter Way to Bake.” Pascale’s book is full of luscious desserts and snacks that are lower in fat and sugar than their traditional counterparts, but it is her “savory” section — offering lighter versions of mac and cheese, chicken pot pie, scalloped potatoes and fries — that is useful on a daily basis. And it includes fish sticks.

    Rather than the soggy log of tasteless fish product wrapped in too much breading and deep fried, Pascale’s fish stick is a finger of salmon lightly coated in whole-wheat crumbs and scented with fresh thyme, baked in the oven and served with a piquant tartar sauce. Her fish sticks have 370 calories per serving (including the sauce), compared with 761 for traditional fish sticks, and about 19 grams of fat compared with about 59.

    They do not smell when you cook them. They are not made from fish high in mercury. They lack eyestalks and tiny bones. If you buy sustainably fished salmon or cod, they are environmentally sound.

    In fact, you can make sure that you use only fish that is low in mercury, sustainably harvested and otherwise deemed OK by folks who care about the health of the fish population. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch” program. Find it at www.seafoodwatch.org and download pocket-sized guides for every region of the country, or get an app for your mobile device.

    Smart? They don’t call fish “brain food” for nothing.

    Baked Salmon and Thyme Fish Fingers and Homemade Tartar Sauce

    Yield: 8 fish fingers (serves 4 as a main meal)

    For the fish:

    4 slices of whole-wheat bread

    1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh thyme leaves

    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    3 large egg whites

    4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets or 2 (9-ounce) chunky cod fillets (preferably sustainably fished), skin removed

    For the tartar sauce:

    ˝ cup plus 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

    1 teaspoon powdered mustard, or 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

    4 teaspoons capers

    3 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

    2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon

    Juice of ˝ lemon

    Few drops of Tabasco sauce (optional)

    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

    Lightly toast the bread in a toaster or under the broiler, and then blitz in a food processor to give fine, dry bread crumbs. Tip them into a wide, shallow bowl and toss with the thyme leaves, a little salt and a good amount of black pepper. In another wide, shallow bowl, lightly beat the egg whites with a fork, seasoning with salt and pepper.

    If using salmon, cut each fillet in half along the length or cut each cod fillet down its length into four thick fingers. Either way, this should give you eight fish fingers.

    Working in batches, dredge the fish fingers first through the egg white mixture, followed by the bread crumbs to coat evenly. Arrange them in a single layer on the baking tray as you prepare them. Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

    Meanwhile, prepare the tartar sauce. Simply mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl and season to taste.

    To check that the fish is cooked, wiggle a knife into the center of the thickest piece. The fish should look a bit dry, not wet and pearly, and should flake a bit. Once cooked, remove from the oven and serve immediately with the tartar sauce.

    Nutritional information, per serving (with sauce): 370 calories; 18.8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 2.8 g sugar, 34 g protein, 1.3 g salt.

    (Recipe from “A Lighter Way to Bake” by Lorraine Pascale; Ecco/HarperCollins, 2013)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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