I hadn’t eaten a fish stick in years. As a kid, I always preferred fish sticks to burgers. In fact, that was about the only school cafeteria lunch item I ever ate, but I never touched the tartar sauce. I don't even know if kids still like fish sticks these days. At some point they disappeared from my diet. I assume that disappearance happened right about the time I was old enough to realize a re-heated, frozen, breaded piece of white fish left something to be desired in flavor, and I have no idea when it was I changed my mind about tartar sauce. So, when I saw this grown-up version of fish sticks with fresh halibut and a pickly, herby, homemade tartar sauce in the June Bon Appetit, I had to try it. I’m pretty sure this version could convince any adult to see fish sticks in a new light. The sticks were pan sauteed rather than deep fried, so there’s no heavy, greasiness about them, and the panko coating made them as crispy as can be.
The tartar sauce came together with mayonnaise, chopped fresh dill, capers, chopped fresh chives, and finely chopped cornichons. Maybe I would have liked tartar sauce all along if it had always been made like this. For the fish sticks, fresh halibut was cut into short, narrow pieces and seasoned. Then, it was coated in egg and dredged in panko breadcrumbs. It cooked quickly in a nonstick skillet with just a tablespoon and a half of oil. It was a quick meal and a nostalgic one as well.
Unlike the ones that came out of a box, these fish sticks were light, crunchy, and fresh-tasting. The tartar sauce was rich and tangy and addictive. I can’t remember what side dish the school cafeteria used to serve with their fish sticks, but it might have been tater tots. We enjoyed these with salad instead, and they surpassed any memory I had of fish sticks. I think they've found their way back into my diet for the foreseeable future.