A single nugget, approximately one ounce, but still. HE ATE FISH. Not Dr. Praeger’s Fishies, which, natural and healthy as they appear to be, are still nothing like eating actual fish.
I’ll back up. The other day I found myself in Union Square with the winter farmers’ market in full swing. On a whim, I picked up a nice-sized fillet of cod. I figured I’d roast it along with some fennel, maybe some tomatoes and black olives, and it would make a light, healthy meal for me and Stephen.
Harry, I knew, wouldn’t touch that. “Tough titty for you, fish-face,” I thought, quoting my husband quoting Monty Python. I’ve mostly given up on getting our boy to eat anything new, and I’ve also sworn off making “kid food” on nights when my husband doesn’t make it home for dinner. But on the way home I reconsidered—shouldn’t I at least try to make something the kid might taste?
By the time I picked up Harry from his after-school program, I’d decided to give him an option. I could roast the cod as planned or, if he wanted to help make them, we could try homemade fish sticks. I’d appreciate it if, after helping to make them, he’d also taste one, but that would be up to him. And to sweeten the deal, I suggested we experiment with the coating. What if we used potato chips? He could help me crush them, and then shake the bag once we’d added the fish.
“Can I also eat some chips with the fish, like, next to it?” A savvy negotiator, my little boy.
“Sure,” I said. This stroke of genius was enough to sell the idea. The kid loves him some chips.
And he loves smashing things, so going to town on a Ziploc bag of crunchy chips made him very, very happy. While the fish sticks were baking, I also made a tray of carrot “fries” (carrot sticks, tossed in olive oil, roasted for 15 minutes).
Stephen didn’t get home in time to eat with us—today is his last day at his current gig, so he’s been putting in some major hours all week—but Harry and I sat down together for a nice meal. I served family style, so he could decide for himself how much of each item to take. No surprise, he opted for the smallest fish stick on the platter, exactly zero carrot fries, and several large handsful of potato chips. He doused both fish and chips with mustard, and ate the entire thing.
I repeat: He ate the entire thing. One ounce of fish? I’ll take it.
Potato Chip Fish Sticks
4 to 6 ounces kettle-style potato chips (I used a bag of Kettle Brand Bakes)
1 1/2 pounds firm white fish (I used cod)
1 egg, beaten
Lemon wedges or cocktail sauce (or mustard, if you’re Harry), for serving
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place a rack inside a rimmed baking sheet, coat lightly with cooking spray, and set aside.
- Put the potato chips into a zipper lock bag and smash with a heavy skillet or a rolling pin until you’ve made small crumbs. Let your kid go to town on this—the smaller the crumbs, the better they’ll stick to the fish
- Cut the fish into sticks or nuggets, then dip into the egg and transfer to the bag of chip crumbs. When you’ve got 4 or 5 pieces in there, seal the bag and shake shake shake (another good job for a kid). Transfer the fish to the prepared rack, and repeat with remaining fish.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, until crumbs are lightly browned and a fork meets no resistance when you try to pierce the fish.
- Serve with whatever condiments float your boat.
MAKE BABY FOOD: Cut the fish into larger pieces, and you’ll be able to mash up the interior for an early eater. (You get to eat the crunchy outsides.) Be vigilant about bones!