It wasn’t that long ago that convenience foods were looked at with favor. In the ’50s and ’60s, many homemakers were grateful to be relieved of the chore of making their family dinner from scratch, and they weren’t the only happy ones. Manufacturers couldn’t crank out TV dinners fast enough to meet the demands of hungry families who discovered how easy it was to get a turkey dinner, complete with a little square of apple cobbler, on the table on a Tuesday night.
Fast forward to today, and you’ll still find some of the same TV dinners making an appearance from time to time. The difference is that the current emphasis on fresh, healthy cooking has made home cooks much more aware of what they’re feeding their families. Fat, sodium and strange-sounding chemicals found in many of those frozen foods have become a less-than-effective selling point for today’s informed shopper.
Still, there are times that I miss some of the flavors from those days when we weren’t reading nutritional labels, foods such as fish sticks. I liked them when I was a kid, and I know I’m not alone. They were crunchy and salty and, best of all, they tasted nothing like fish. I’m not even sure if seafood was one of the ingredients. No matter, I was a fan.
Of course, I realize that even if I caved in to my craving for those childhood favorites, they would likely be a big letdown to my adult palate. But that doesn’t mean I can’t indulge in them occasionally. Homemade crispy fish sticks are easy to make and a world away from the their frozen competitors in flavor, texture and freshness.
For my fish sticks, I use a firm-fleshed white fish, such as cod, then coat them in light and flaky panko crumbs, bake them in a hot oven until they’re golden and crispy, and serve them with a light tartar sauce, spiked with briny capers and fresh chives. The whole dish can be made in 30 minutes, which is mighty convenient on a busy weeknight. And they taste great.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.