Surely little evokes quite the same quality of nostalgia in one who grew up in the United Kingdom as the Fish Finger. Invariably (vegetarian families aside) the staple of many a quick, post-school dinner, not to mention school lunches and, later in life, that after-work bar stalwart and towering totem of food infantilisation, the fish finger sandwich, without a doubt the Fish Finger has to some extent, shaped the way I eat, cook and think about food irreversibly.
Perhaps mainly because of what we call it, (I believe the rest of the World tend to opt for ‘Fish Stick’ which, as well as being a lot less fun re Painting a Picture, also presents a few issues of its own when rolled off the tongue too quickly, as the writers of South Park were once apt to observe), there is a certain none-more-British whimsy to the Fish Finger; the aforementioned nostalgia, coupled with a freezer-section humbleness and the inescapable image of a fish, swimming through the sea with breadcrumb-coated fingers.
Perhaps all that is why Nigel has, in this book instead opted for the title ‘Cod In Crumbs’ for this particular meal, and I thank him for it. A lesser food writer may have opted for a description like ‘Posh Fish Fingers’ which makes me feel a little queasy somehow, and rather misses the point that covering fish in something and then frying it, far from being Posh, is the kind of everyman tradition that is often tagged with crass nationalistic propaganda slogans like ‘What Makes Britain Great’ or somesuch.
The Real Fast Food method is jolly no-nonsense, which is just the way it should be. I cut pieces of cod fillet into largish chunks (the fillets I had weren’t able to provide the 2-inch cubes Nigel suggested, but I think the end result was no worse off for it), dredged them in seasoned flour (oddly, the book didn’t instruct you to season the flour, but I took it as read that it would’t do any harm) dipped them in a whisked egg, and then in some recently prepared sourdough breadcrumbs (I usually keep a bag of good breadcrumbs from gone-stale home-baked bread in the freezer for meals just such as this, the alternative presumably being fine, luminous orange ones from a shop-bought tube or Japanese panko, but I’d run out, so I turned to a white sourdough that was on its last legs and made them fresh. If that’s not the most insufferably middle-class thing you’ve heard today then I honestly give up) before putting them in a hot pan containing a mixture of oil and butter.
No timing really needed here, just a medium heat, and a short wait for each side to look golden-brown and delicious, and then straight onto a hot plate.
We ate them with some leftover boiled potatoes, bought back to life in a hot oven for half an hour, a crunchy red cabbage and watercress salad with the end of a bag of walnuts and a squeezed lemon chucked over it and a hastily prepared tartare sauce, made with copious dill fronds and chopped capers and pickles, mixed with mayonnaise, creme fraiche and a healthy dab of french mustard.
Aside from those who can’t or won’t eat fish, I just cannot imagine why anyone wouldn’t enjoy a meal like this. It’s as un-fancy as anything, yet is a nice piece of fish, fried, which is pretty snob proof; it has lightness, butteriness, moisture and crunch in every mouthful; it’s good for children; it’s good for adults.
On top of all that, it could be cooked by a seven year-old and easily achieves the within-half-an-hour marker that’s promised on the cover.
What more could you want?
Buy your own copy of Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Fast Food’ HERE.