Crispy Cornmeal Fish with Tartar Sauce

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It doesn’t matter whether you cut the fish into serving portions or into sticks. Kids think the fish sticks are cool and adults think they taste good, no matter what the shape. The cornmeal offsets the heat but not the flavor of the cayenne.


For the tartar sauce: 

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, purchased or homemade
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped bread and butter pickles, purchased or homemade
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 2 tsp. drained capers, chopped 
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, plus more, to taste 
  • Kosher salt, to taste 
  • 1 1/2 lb. thick tilapia, cod or catfish fillets 
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 3 egg whites, beaten 
  • 1 cup fine cornmeal 
  • 3 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper 
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
  • Lemon wedges for serving 


To make the tartar sauce, in a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, pickles, parsley, capers and cayenne. Season with salt, then taste and add more cayenne if you want it spicier.

You can cut the fish into 4 to 6 uniform pieces, or you can cut it into strips 1 inch wide, to make fish sticks. The cooking method is the same for both. Put 1/2 cup of the flour, the egg whites, and the cornmeal plus the remaining 1/2 cup flour into 3 separate shallow bowls and line them up in that order. Season each bowl with 1 tsp. salt. Stir the cayenne and parsley into the cornmeal mixture.

One at a time, coat the fish pieces on both sides with the flour and tap off the excess, and then dip into the egg whites and allow the excess to drip off. Finally, dip into the cornmeal mixture, coating both sides, and place on a plate.

Warm a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 to 3 Tbs. olive oil. When the oil is hot, add as many fish pieces to the pan as will fit without crowding and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides and opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a warmed platter and keep warm while you cook the remaining fish. Serve immediately with the tartar sauce and lemon wedges. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Family Meals, by Maria Helm Sinskey (Oxmoor House, 2008).

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