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What’s the best way to cook fish fingers?

Fish fingers, also known as fish sticks, are a popular frozen food item made of fish fillets that are breaded and fried. They make for a quick and easy meal, especially for kids, but cooking them just right can be tricky. Undercook them and they’ll be soggy, overcook them and they’ll be dry and hard. So what’s the best technique for getting fish fingers perfectly golden and crispy on the outside while keeping the inside tender and flaky? Let’s take a look at some tips and methods for frying up the best fish fingers.

Should You Thaw Fish Fingers Before Cooking?

Most fish finger packages say to cook them directly from frozen, so you may be wondering if you really need to thaw them first. Here are the pros and cons:

Pros of Cooking Frozen

– It’s quicker and easier – just open the package and start cooking. No waiting around for them to thaw.

– The breading stays crisper when cooked from frozen. Thawed breading tends to soak up more oil and get soggy.

Pros of Thawing Before Cooking

– Thawed fish fingers will cook more evenly all the way through. Frozen ones can end up with a soft center if the outside browns too quickly.

– You may get better flavor development from thawed fish. Frozen ones need to be cooked at a lower temp.

– The fish can soak up more of the breading flavor when thawed.

So in summary, cooking from frozen is faster and keeps the breading crisp, but thawing first gives you more evenly cooked fish with better flavor. It’s personal preference which method you choose. For a quick weeknight dinner, cooking frozen is convenient. But for best results, thawing slightly ahead is recommended.

How to Thaw Fish Fingers

If you opt to thaw before cooking, here are a couple recommended methods:

Refrigerator Thawing

For a slow, safe thaw, let the unopened package of fish fingers sit in the refrigerator for 8-10 hours or overnight. The cool temperature prevents bacterial growth. Once thawed, they can be kept refrigerated 1-2 days.

Cold Water Thaw

For a quicker thaw, seal the fish fingers in a plastic bag and submerge in a bowl of cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. This method can thaw fish fingers in 1-2 hours. Cook them immediately after thawing.

Avoid thawing at room temperature as this allows for more bacterial growth. Microwaving to thaw can start cooking the fish unevenly.

Cooking Methods for Fish Fingers

There are a few ways you can cook fish fingers, each with their pros and cons. Here are some popular cooking methods:

Deep Frying

Deep frying fully submerges the fish fingers in hot oil, resulting in the crispiest exterior. Use a deep pot or Fry Daddy filled with 2-3 inches of oil heated to 350-375°F. Fry in batches for 2-3 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Pros: Very crispy, restaurant-quality fish fingers.
Cons: Requires a lot of oil and cleanup. Can be prone to greasiness. Safety hazard with hot oil.

Pan Frying

Pan frying uses less oil than deep frying. Heat about 1⁄4 inch of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Fry fish fingers for 2-3 minutes per side until crispy and browned.

Pros: Crisp breading from direct oil contact. Easier cleanup than deep frying.
Cons: Easy to burn if oil is too hot. Flip with care to avoid breading falling off.

Oven Baking

Baking fish fingers requires no oil at all. Place in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 425°F for 10-12 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Pros: Healthiest cooking method. No chance of burning with hot oil.
Cons: Breading not as crispy without frying. Requires frequent flipping.

Air Frying

Air fryers use rapid hot circulating air to crisp foods. Arrange fish fingers in the air fry basket. Cook at 400°F for 8-10 minutes, shaking basket occasionally.

Pros: Gets breading crispy with minimal oil. Easy cleanup.
Cons: Smaller capacity than oven. Need to flip frequently for even cooking.

Tips for Perfectly Cooked Fish Fingers

To get the best results when cooking fish fingers, keep these tips in mind:

– Thaw slightly before cooking for more even cooking (unless air frying).
– Use a thermometer to check internal temp reaches 145°F.
– Adjust cooking time based on thickness of fish sticks.
– Flip/rotate frequently to prevent burning.
– Drain on paper towels to remove excess grease.
– Don’t overcrowd the pan or baking sheet.
– Keep cooked fish fingers warm in a low oven if not serving immediately.

Flavor Variations

Standard fish fingers are made from white fish like cod or haddock with a basic breadcrumb coating. But you can add flavor by switching up the fish type or seasoning the breading.

Fish Options

– Salmon
– Tilapia
– Catfish
– Pollock
– Rainbow trout

Seasoned Breading Ideas

– Lemon pepper
– Cajun
– Ranch
– Old Bay
– Italian herbs
– Chili powder
– Panko crumbs

Get creative with the flavors to suit your tastes!

Recommended Condiments

It’s hard to beat the classic ketchup or tartar sauce with fish fingers. But they also pair well with a variety of dipping sauces:

Sauce Ingredients
Mango chutney Mango, raisins, spices
Sweet chili sauce Sugar, vinegar, chili, garlic
Honey mustard Mustard, honey, mayo
Cocktail sauce Ketchup, horseradish, lemon
Ranch Mayo, buttermilk, herbs

The sweet and savory combinations complement the flavor of the fish.

Best Sides to Serve

Fish fingers work nicely alongside an assortment of sides:

– French fries or potato wedges – Classic pairings that match the crispy texture of the fish.

– Coleslaw – The creaminess and crunch pairs well.

– Rice – White or brown rice adds filling grains.

– Veggies – Broccoli, carrots, peas, or asparagus.

– Dinner rolls – Good for soaking up any dipping sauces.

– Salad – A crisp green salad balances the fried food.

You can keep it simple with just fish fingers and frozen fries, or make it a complete meal by adding 2-3 different sides. Adjust sides based on your taste preferences.

Full Meal Recipe Ideas

To turn fish fingers into a full meal, here are a couple recipe ideas:

Fish Finger Sandwiches

– Fish fingers
– Burger buns or sandwich bread
– Lettuce
– Tomato
– Tartar sauce or ketchup

Preparation: Fry fish fingers according to package directions. Toast buns if desired. Assemble sandwiches by layering several fish fingers with lettuce, tomato, and choice of sauce on each bun. Serve with fries.

Fish Finger Tacos

– Fish fingers
– Corn or flour tortillas
– Shredded cabbage
– Pico de gallo
– Mexican crema

Preparation: Fry fish fingers as directed. Warm tortillas according to package instructions. Assemble tacos by topping tortillas with fish fingers, cabbage, pico de gallo, and a dollop of crema. Serve with rice and beans.

Storage and Reheating

Cooked fish fingers can be stored and reheated by:

– Refrigerating in an airtight container up to 3-4 days. Reheat in a 400°F oven for 5-10 minutes.

– Freezing in freezer bags or airtight container up to 3 months. Reheat frozen fish fingers in the oven without thawing first. Add a few extra minutes to normal cooking time.

– Microwaving for 30-60 seconds to reheat leftovers. Check for hot spots and stir occasionally. Cover with a damp paper towel to prevent drying out.

Be sure to reheat fish fingers to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure food safety. Store leftovers promptly in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours.


For the crispiest, crunchiest fish fingers, thaw slightly before frying or opt for air frying. Deep frying makes them extra crispy and moist inside with the most flavor from the oil. But pan frying or baking are lower mess options that still give a delicious result. Be sure not to overcook, and flipping frequently helps prevent burning. Pair fish fingers with creamy condiments and sides to create a well-balanced meal. Whether you’re cooking for kids or just craving some comfort food, follow these tips for making perfect fish fingers your whole family will love.