Quick-But-Good Fish Fingers

Advice on ‘how to get children to eat’ always rubs me slightly up the wrong way, for some reason. I understand that food is an area where children really get a chance to make a power-play against their parents and actually control something (for the same reason they’ll wait for the most inopportune moment to throw a strop and then, with the timing of a true artist, let rip) but, on the other hand, they’re also just people, with preferences and, what is more, they’re people dealing with a changing, growing palate that means, say, asparagus, or olives, or rhubarb will delight them one season, then repel them the next. I struggle to blame a child who honestly gives something a go and doesn’t enjoy it and, to be brutally honest, feel that sometimes, being made, rather than encouraged to eat something, might do more harm than good, in the long run. Who knows though. I’m certainly no scientician.

In any case, as ordinary people, with the ordinary culinary urges of ordinary examples of that species, our children enjoy basically anything coated in breadcrumbs, then fried in butter. It’s just one of those things: coat it in breadcrumbs, and fry it in butter, perhaps with something to dip it in on the side, and you’ve got an almost universally palatable dish on your hands. I dare say even something as divisive as Brussels Sprouts or Pickled Eggs could have their support swelled significantly by being dipped into a heap of breadcrumbs and then fried (I actually want to try both of these now, even as a lifetime critic of the former). It just makes everything better. I even went so far recently as to coat a cheese sandwich in breadcrumbs and then fry that. Bread, coated in bread!

To achieve this wonderful preparation is very simple: fill one bowl with flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, in another, beat an egg, and into a third, pour some breadcrumbs. Dip your crumbee, whatever it might be, first into the flour (if it’s a non-meat, it may need to be cooked or moistened somehow for this), then the egg, which will adhere to the floured surface in a gummy fashion, and finally the breadcrumbs. Pile your crumbed delights high on a plate, warm a pan over a medium heat, toss in a generous slice of butter and let it froth, then fry away, turning til golden all over. It’s a quick, therapeutic, half-hour, mid-week dinner. You need no more than a salad, a bowl of boiled waxy potatoes and something to dip into (and really, ketchup is fine in this instance, isn’t it?) and you’re away.

A few of words of advice:

  • Whilst fun-looking, the luminous orange breadcrumbs-in-a-tube we all know from childhood are vastly inferior to the genuine article. If you can, blitz up a stale hunk of bread, crusts removed, in a food processor, relatively fine and even. Failing that, secure a bag of Japanese Panko, which are as lovely a breadcrumb as one could wish for.
  • If you’re using meat, fish or even uncooked vegetables, take care to cut your pieces to fairly even sizes, or at the very least, to something that’s around a centimetre thick. This should ensure that everything cooks through in the time it takes for the breadcrumbs to reach a deep, golden brown.
  • If you’re frying in batches, which if you’re cooking for four or more, you probably will be, add more butter to the pan frequently, moving everything around a little after each addition; breadcrumbs are absorbent, and the pan can easily dry out during cooking.
  • If you want to, you can use oil for the frying but do you really? Really?

We breaded some cod, after endless requests for Fish Fingers, and ate them alongside some asparagus (newly appeared from Spain), simple boiled potatoes, a quick green salad and a tartare sauce I prepared while the fish was in the pan (simply gherkin, capers, parsley and dill, all cut small, then mixed with mayonnaise, grain mustard and a squeeze of lemon before seasoning). In all, if you’re really quick and organised, this is doable in 30 minutes, and is a very viable mid-week dinner which always goes down very well at ours.

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You will need:

  • 500g White Fish (or anything you like really) cut into roughly fish-finger-sized bits
  • A Bowl of Plain Flour (with extra on hand, if needed) lightly seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika
  • An Egg, whisked in another bowl (with more eggs on hand)
  • A Big Bowl of Fresh Breadcrumbs or a Bag of Panko, decanted into a third bowl
  • A ready supply of Unsalted Butter

Take a piece of fish and dip it into the flour, covering it all over, then giving it a little shake to dust off the excess. Next, dip it in the egg, and finally into the breadcrumbs, before setting aside on a plate, and repeating with the remaining pieces of fish.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat, and throw in a thick slice of butter until it begins to foam. Add a batch of breaded fish (don’t worry if the pan is crowded, they will shrink slightly) and fry for a few minutes til crisp and golden brown on one side. Flip them over, adding more butter and giving the pan a shake if needed, and repeat on the other side. When they’re done, remove to a warm plate, and repeat with any remaining uncooked pieces you have.

Serve with anything you like (seriously, baked beans and chips wouldn’t be at all inappropriate here) making sure you give the fish a quick sprinkling of fresh lemon juice before eating.

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