Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce

This image courtesy of Christopher Hirsheimer

Crispy, crunchy fried food tastes good—admit it. In order to get a crackling outer shell, recipes call for either a batter or a dredge. I have developed a three step do-si-do, an essential skill that does not create a huge mess. Once you have this technique in your arsenal, turn your sights on fish sticks, and mix sweet pickle relish into a creamy tartar sauce. These plump, moist fish sticks are covered with a light, crunchy cloak that shatters at the first bite in the most satisfying way. I like to use mild-flavored firm fish fillets so the pieces are consistently sized and cook evenly. These are easy to eat, even for youngsters who aren’t at all sure about fish. Add potato flakes for crunch? That bit of brilliance came straight from Jacques Pepin. Look for potato flakes at the grocery store in the same aisle as bread crumbs.


Preparation Time - TextACTIVE TIME: 40 minutes

Cooking MethodPan-frying


Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe CourseMain Course

Dietary ConsiderationPeanut Free, Tree Nut Free


Taste and TextureCrisp, Crunchy


  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons Sweet Pickle Relish
  • 2 pounds (900 g) fillets of cod or other firm fish
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (12 oz., 340 g) instant potato flakes
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, mint, basil, or a combination
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (8.5 oz., 250 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • Grapeseed, canola, or other flavorless oil for deep-frying


  1. To make the tartar sauce, combine the lemon juice, mayonnaise, and sweet relish in a small bowl. Stir well, cover, and refrigerate.

  2. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Slice into ½-inch-thick slabs. Make the pieces as uniform as possible so they will cook at the same rate.

  3. Pile half the flour on the left side of a baking sheet and the other half on the right. Mix the potato flakes, herbs, and lemon zest into the pile on the right. Generously salt and pepper both mounds. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the water. Set the bowl in the center of the baking sheet.

  4. With your left hand, put a piece of fish into the flour on the left side, turning it to coat well, then drop it into the egg wash. With your right hand, turn the fish over and over in the egg wash, then drop into the potato flake mixture. Use your left hand to lift the dry mixture and pat it onto the fish . Keep one hand dry, one wet. Just keep saying that under your breath. Set the coated fish at the edge of the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining fish. When all the pieces have been dredged, put the baking sheet stove-side.

  5. In a cast-iron or other heavy straight-sided sauté pan, heat 1 inch of oil to 325°F. Crisp the fish, in batches, until well browned on both sides, turning only once, about 4 minutes per side. Drain the fish on paper towels set on a rack and sprinkle with salt.

  6. Serve piping hot with the tartar sauce and lemon wedges.


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